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New Massachusetts Domestic Violence Act

Earlier this month, Massachusetts enacted the “Act Relative to Domestic Violence”. Though arguably the intent of the act is in good faith, it has very profound and serious implications on those defendants charged with a domestic violence offense in Massachusetts, directly altering the landscape at a defendant’s arraignment and bail, as well as the potential criminal penalties a defendant may face.

There are now dramatic changes to the domestic violence laws in Massachusetts, including new criminal domestic violence charges; changes to issues concerning bail, release upon arrest, and detention hearings; as well as issues affecting the person’s CORI information.

First, persons who are charged with a criminal offense that involves ‘domestic abuse’ are not eligible for release or bail within 6 hours from their arrest (unless the release or conditions of bail are imposed directly from a judge in court).

Second, at the person’s arraignment, the court must now inquire of the Commonwealth whether the purported domestic abuse occurred at or about the time of the alleged crime. If so, the prosecutor is required to file a written statement with the court and the judge must also make written findings that domestic abuse is alleged. These “findings” are to then be kept in a “statewide domestic violence” database. Despite the fact that the defendant is presumed to be innocent, the person’s name will not be removed from this database unless the person is acquitted or a grand jury returns a “no bill” or rejects a proposed indictment. Even a dismissal of the case will not remove the person’s name from this database under the new law.

Although this statement may not be used in any grand jury proceeding or investigation, nor by “the Commonwealth related to the crime for which the person was brought before the court“, the Act leaves open whether this statement may be admissible in other criminal or civil matters, such as for “prior bad act evidence”. Ridiculous…

Third, issues of bail. In addressing whether the person charged should be released on his own personal recognizance or if conditions of bail should be set, the Act also permits judges to consider the safety of the purported victim and/or others in the community. Inevitably, judges now facing requests by prosecutors to set bail and other conditions of release, will lean towards setting bail, higher bail and/or additional conditions of release that would not otherwise been imposed prior to the enactment of this Act.

In the past, if a defendant while released on bail was charged with another criminal offense, his bail could have been revoked and he could have been held in custody for up to 60 days. Now, persons released on conditions of bail on domestic abuse charges who fail to abide by their conditions of bail are now subject to a 90 day revocation of their bail.

Additionally, as far as Dangerousness Hearings go, a defendant who is deemed to be ‘dangerous’ so that no conditions of release can reasonably assure the safety of the community will be held for a period of up to 120 days.

In dangerousness hearings, it is typical to summons in witnesses, including the victim, to contest whether holding the defendant without bail is appropriate. Under the new Act, defense counsel may not summons in the victim of a crime without first obtaining permission from the court and establishing a “reasonable belief…that the testimony will be material and relevant to support a finding that there are conditions of release that will reasonably assure the safety of any other person or the community.” Not only does this now infringe upon a defendant’s constitutional rights to be afforded a full opportunity to produce witnesses, but also infringes on the person’s right to present evidence on his behalf.

Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Domestic Violence Charges. To schedule a Free Consultation, Click Here to Submit a Contact Request or call 617-325-9500.