Harassment Prevention Orders and Restraining Orders in Massachusetts: The Differences between G.L. c. 258E and G.L. c. 209A

It has been a year since Massachusetts introduced the new Harassment Order law (G.L. c. 258E) last May which allows a plaintiff to seek a “Harassment Prevention Order” in court against a defendant for “Harassment”. Since the enactment of the Harassment Law in Massachusetts there has been an explosion of new cases and a corresponding increase in the need for an experienced Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer.

In order to obtain a Harassment Order against another person, the moving party must demonstrate that 3 or more acts were committed against them in a “willful and malicious” manner with “intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or property damage.” The Plaintiff can seek a Harassment order in the District Court, Boston Municipal Court, Juvenile Court, or Superior Court.

The principle difference between Abuse Prevention Orders (G.L. c. 209A) and Harassment Orders (G.L. c. 258E) concerns the class of people eligible for relief under each law. With Harassment Orders anyone can seek relief by filing an application in court and proving a case of harassment as defined above by a preponderance of the evidence. The Abuse Prevention Order only allows “Family or Household Members” to seek relief. In short, there must have been a relationship between the parties by marriage, or persons residing together in the same household, or relation at some point by blood or marriage between them. One could also seek an Abuse Prevention Order if they were or had been in a dating relationship with the offending party.

The Harassment Order law re-defines and greatly increases the pool of eligible plaintiffs who have access to the courts to obtain a “Harassment Order”. Consequently, we are now seeing a flood of new filings by neighbor against neighbor which has overwhelmed already swollen court dockets. Due to the increase in cases an experienced Boston Criminal attorney is crucial to have at your side when seeking or defending against Harassment and Abuse Prevention Orders in Massachusetts.

Under either law a defendant can be ordered to not abuse, harass, or contact the other party and may be prohibited from coming near a plaintiff’s household or workplace. The procedural process under either law is very similar and allows the moving party to obtain an order by filing a complaint with notice to a defendant and a 10-day hearing is scheduled. Under the Harassment Order law relief can be granted right away in an ex-parte or one-side only hearing in an emergency exists and there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of harassment. Violation of Harassment Order law (G.L. c. 258E) is a misdemeanor criminal offense in Massachusetts punishable by up to 2 ½ years in the House of Correction or by a fine of up to $5,000.00 or both.

The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy, Esq. can provide experienced and effective legal representation for those individuals seeking the issuance or defense of either the Abuse Prevention Order or Harassment Order in court. Our Boston criminal law office is located at 11 Beacon Street, Suite 1210, Boston, MA 02109. You may contact Attorney Murphy by telephone at (617) 367-0450.

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