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Domestic Violence Laws in Massachusetts

Domestic violence is defined as abuse committed by one family member against another. It includes physical harm, threat/fear of physical harm, or involuntary sexual acts. Abuse can be physical or emotional in nature, or involve control of money/finances. If you are involved in any type of domestic abuse, the following is information on domestic violence laws in Massachusetts.

Law Enforcement Response to Domestic Violence Cases

Oftentimes, police are called for domestic incidents. If the responding officers believe domestic violence is taking place or has taken place within the previous 4 hours, they are required to make an arrest. The decision of whether to arrest is not up to the victim.

Sometimes domestic incidents involve actions by more than one family member. For instance, a couple may be arguing and both physically harm one another. In this case, responding officers will try to determine who was the primary aggressor and arrest that person.

Prosecuting Domestic Violence Cases in MA

Domestic violence is considered a crime against society. It is a criminal offense and not a civil one. Therefore, it is up to the local prosecutor to decide whether to press charges. It is not the victim’s decision. Victims are technically witnesses for the prosecution in their case against the defendant. Should a prosecutor decide to dismiss a case, a judge must approve that dismissal. The victim would be merely notified of the decision to prosecute or dismiss a case.

Penalties for Domestic Violence

Depending on the severity of the crime and past criminal history of the defendant, a domestic violence case can be a misdemeanor or a felony. The penalty also varies based on the specific circumstances. It can include:

  • Fines of up to $1,000
  • Up to 2.5 years in prison
  • Probation
  • Counseling
  • Substance Abuse Treatment

In cases where a restraining order was already in place prior to the current domestic violence incident, the penalties are higher: up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.

Summary of Domestic Violence Laws in Massachusetts

It is important to note that every domestic violence case is unique. The history of the relationship between family members, criminal history of those involved, and many other factors are considered. If you are accused of domestic violence, it is important to have an attorney review your case and determine the best approach to your defense. Failure to do so could be costly, considering the potential penalties noted above. Please contact our office for a free consultation.

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