The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court considered the case of Silva v. Carmel, and decided that an abuse prevention order may issue where the defendant and victim live in the same state facility may not issue.
Both the defendant and the victim in this case were intellectually disabled persons who both resided at the same state-residential facility of the Department of Developmental Services. Following an altercation where the defendant pushed the victim into a bathtub and caused her injuries, the victim applied for and obtained a restraining order from a district court judge. The order was issued for one year following the judge’s finding that both parties resided in the same “household”.
On appeal, the SJC agreed with the defendant that the district court judge was mistaken in issuing the restraining order because the parties (1) did not reside together in the same household as contemplated by the statute; and (2) the relationship of the parties was not of the type the abuse prevention statute set out to protect.
In rationalizing its decision, the Supreme Judicial Court explained that the statute governing an abuse prevention order seeks to protect individuals from abuse by family or “household members” (persons who are married; have children together; reside in the same household; related by blood or marriage, etc.). Persons who simply reside in the same state-run facility do not meet the definition of ‘household members’ because they are connected solely because of their individualized treatment plans, not because of any family connection.
The Supreme Judicial Court also declined to extend the definition of “household members” to include persons living in state-run facilities because doing so might interfere with a department’s to implement service plans and client needs. Additionally, the court was constrained by the definition of “household member” as defined in the statute by the legislature.
Ultimately, the SJC reiterated that the abuse prevention statute’s goal is to prevent abuse or violence within the family unit. It was not enacted to apply to random acts of violence by strangers, or even friend-type relationships.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that persons who are abused or victims of violence by non-household members cannot obtain a restraining order against that person. The Massachusetts Legislature has provided for a mechanism to obtain civil restraining orders against people who are not family or “household” members.
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