New Domestic Violence Law Affects Massachusetts Arraignments

In Massachusetts, domestic violence is a crime that includes not only physical harm but also attempts to cause physical harm, triggering fear of imminent serious physical harm or involuntary sexual relations between family or household members. Family and household members include people who are married, are living together, are related by blood or marriage, have children together, or are dating or have dated. In August 2014, Massachusetts Governor Patrick signed a new emergency law known as “Act Relative to Domestic Violence,” which changes the arraignment, bail, detention, and criminal penalties in domestic violence cases. The impact on arraignment is especially significant.

Generally in Massachusetts, a defendant is entitled to a prompt arraignment under Mass. R. Crim. P. 7(a)(1) and a 1996 case known as Commonwealth v. Rosario. Under the former, an arrested defendant is to be brought for arraignment before the court if it is in session already, but if it is not, the defendant is to be brought for arraignment at the next session. Any defendant who receives a summons or has been arrested but is released will be ordered to appear before the court on a certain date.

However, under the new law, if you are charged with a crime involving domestic abuse or strangulation, you are prevented from being released within six hours of being arrested, unless the judge sets bail in open court. The six-hour period is considered a “cooling off” period during which the situation can be de-escalated and the victim gets time to look for safety.

Representative Christopher Markey, a former prosecutor who participated in the committee that finalized the law, said that slowing down the process would allow prosecutors to find out more information about alleged perpetrators and allow them to obtain criminal history from other locations. The law also allows prosecutors more time to assess whether it is appropriate to request a dangerousness hearing.

Additionally, at the arraignment of any crime against somebody else’s person or property, the court must ask the prosecutors whether domestic abuse happened immediately before or in conjunction with the crime that is alleged. The prosecutor has to file a written statement, and the judge must make written findings about whether domestic abuse is alleged. This finding is put in a Massachusetts domestic violence record keeping system and is only removed if the defendant is acquitted or a no bill is returned. The finding stays in the database, however, when the case is dismissed, although it can’t be admitted in an investigation of proceeding before a grand jury or court related to the crime at issue.

Whenever bail is being considered in a domestic abuse case, the court is required to consider not only the defendant’s likelihood of coming to future court dates but also the victim’s safety, the community’s safety, and any other person’s safety. If a domestic violence defendant fails to comply with bail conditions, he or she is subject to a 90-day revocation. The court is required to warn the defendant of this change.

If you are arrested for domestic violence, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss your Massachusetts criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Larceny in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published August 4, 2014
Protective Sweeps in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published July 8, 2014

Contact Information