As discussed in prior blog posts, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed Senate Bill 2334 in August. The bill created new criminal charges related to domestic violence. It amends chapter 265 to create two new crimes: assault and battery on household members as well as suffocation and strangulation.
Under the new bill, a conviction for first-time assault or assault and battery on a "family or household member" may result in a sentence of two and a half years of imprisonment in the house of correction and a fine of up to $5,000. Family and household members are those people who are married, those who have a child together, and those who are engaged or in a "substantive dating relationship." The court must also order a convicted defendant to complete a certified batterer's intervention program, unless it makes written findings that show good cause why this requirement need not be met.
The bill also created a new crime of strangulation or suffocation of any other individual and aggravated strangulation. In the past, strangulation or suffocation could be charged as either felony attempted murder or as simple assault and battery. The new law recognizes that in domestic violence contexts, one partner may strangle the other not to kill the victim, but in order to exert dominance and cause pain and panic that can be used to control the victim. The person committing the strangulation is trying to torture the victim, rather than attempt to murder him or her. However a prosecutor's only alternative to charging attempted murder was to charge "simple assault and battery." This is only a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.