Domestic Violence Laws & Charges

Domestic violence law provides the criminal rules required to punish people who cause physical or emotional harm to others with whom they share a close relationship. For example, domestic violence matters may involve sisters, cousins, or a married couple. Domestic violence law also deals with the civil protections that are available to victims who suffer as a result of this particular form of crime.

In Massachusetts, a new law has been passed that created the category of domestic assault and battery and this is covered by Section 13M of Chapter 265 of the Massachusetts General Laws. Here, a family or household member is defined as a spouse, one with whom you have a child in common, or one with whom you have been in a substantive engagement or dating relations.

Examples of Domestic Violence

The fact that in most cases, those engaged in domestic violence will take advantage of the confidence and trust of their victims generally pushes prosecutors to ask for extremely harsh sentences in court, that are often stricter than the penalties generally given for assault crimes that involve strangers with no prior relationship. These sentences can include special protections for past and potential targets of domestic abuse.

Many different forms of abuse are included within a typical definition of domestic violence, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and even economic abuse - where an abuser ensures that the victim is financially reliant upon him or her.

Importantly, while the term domestic abuse might lead to certain assumptions about this crime, it's worth noting that the definition of parties protected by the law of domestic abuse is not limited to people who currently share a home with their aggressor. Because violence might happen following the end of a relationship, most domestic laws also apply to persons no longer in a relationship with an offender. In fact, in many jurisdictions, it is not even necessary for the victim and the offender to have ever resided together in order for the crime to qualify as an act of domestic violence. Many states also broadly define the people who are protected by domestic violence laws to include people who are related by adoption, marriage, and blood.

Domestic Violence Punishments

As mentioned previously, it is possible for the penalties following a conviction of domestic violence to be particularly harsh in many cases. According to [], some states have actually created separate statutes that apply specifically to certain acts of violence committed between people in domestic relationships, while other states treat domestic violence as an aggravating factor that may trigger increased penalties for other violent act convictions, such as battery.

A domestic violence offense may be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor - with penalties varying widely among different states. The factor that makes the difference between a felony charge and a misdemeanor charge is usually the severity of the injury in question, and whether the defendant has a criminal history to speak of before the domestic violence charge. In some states, the offense will also be upgraded if the defendant targeted a victim who is under the age of 16.

Penalties may include:

  • Community service
  • Significant fines
  • Intervention or anger management programs that the court demands the defendant attends and shows proof of attending
  • Jail or prison time
  • Protective or restraining orders against the defendant for the victim
  • Supervised children visit if the defendant is a parent
  • Termination of parental rights
  • Deportation for aliens

Most of the time, jail time will only be imposed if there is serious bodily injury to the victim, or if there has been evidence of a continuing pattern of violence. Additionally, jail time may be given to a defendant who has a previous criminal record. Incarceration times may range between thirty days, and decades.

In Massachusetts, as mentioned above, penalties are imposed for domestic assault and battery:

  • Up to 2.5 years in a house of correction and a fine of up to $5000
  • For a second domestic assault and battery, penalty is up to 2.5 years in house of correction or 5 years in state prison

Domestic Violence Defenses

  • In most circumstances, criminal cases of this nature are resolved in two ways:
    ◦ defendant can go to trial and fight back against the allegations
    ◦ defendant may enter a guilty plea or no contest plea in exchange for more lenient punishments than might have been imposed otherwise
  • Plea of insanity, which indicates you were not in your right mind when the act of violence took place,
  • Plea of mistaken identity
  • Many domestic violence cases involve an element of who is the one telling the truth, the alleged victim or the accused, but the accusers' credibility is usually very important. Recorded statements made by the accuser can also be crucial to the case, since the prosecution can go forward even if the accuser chooses not to press charges after time.

What to Do If You Have Been Charged

As with most, or indeed any crime, if you are charged with domestic violence, it's important to recognize that a conviction could carry several very serious penalties. Allegations of domestic violence may also result in court-ordered protective orders that affect your rights as a parent and your conduct in daily life. If you are accused of committing a domestic violence offense, it is important to consult with a skilled attorney who has experience handling matters that are similar to yours. This attorney will serve as your advocate, seeking favorable resolutions on your behalf.

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