Criminal charges related to allegations of domestic violence are taken seriously by prosecutors throughout the Commonwealth and carry the potential for harsh penalties. In Massachusetts, domestic assault and battery charges typically stem from an assault or physical altercation between family or household members, as well as those involved in substantial dating relationships.
If you are facing domestic assault and battery charges in Massachusetts, it is important to understand the charges and how the case will be prosecuted. At Riccio Law, we believe it is part of an attorney’s job to educate both clients and non-clients about the law.
What is Domestic Assault and Battery?
According to Massachusetts General Laws c. 265 §13M, assault and battery on a family or household member, a misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 2 ½ years imprisonment in the house of correction. To be convicted of assault & battery on a family/household member the government must prove the following:
- the defendant touched the alleged victim;
- the touching was intentional;
- the touching was offensive (without consent) or likely to cause bodily harm; and
- the alleged victim was a family or household member, or involved in a substantive dating relationship with the defendant at the time of the offense.
The law defines “household or family or household member” as two persons who:
- are or were married;
- have a child in common; or
- are or have been in a substantive dating or engaging relationship, including relationships involving persons who identify with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) community.
Potential Penalties for Massachusetts Domestic Assault and Battery Charges
The particular facts and circumstances surrounding allegations of domestic assault and battery, including the extent of injuries, dictate what criminal charges follow. In cases where there are minor injuries and no aggravating factors, the defendant will likely be charged with Assault and Battery on a Family/Household Member, a misdemeanor offense in violation of M.G.L. c. 265 §13M, and punishable by up to 2 ½ years in the house of correction and a maximum fine of $1,000.00.
A number of aggravating factors may result in additional charges, including felonies carrying the potential for harsher penalties. Some aggravating factors include:
- serious bodily injury
- assault & battery on a pregnant woman
- active restraining order in effect at time of assault / 209A Violations
- allegations of suffocation and/or strangulation
In cases involving serious bodily injury or a pregnant victim, the potential maximum punishment increases to 5 years in state prison and a fine up to $5,000.00.
In Massachusetts, a victim does not have the right to decide whether or not to press criminal charges. The police must arrest the offender if there is probable cause to believe and assault and battery occurred. However, a victim does have some input regarding punishment in the event of a plea deal or guilty verdict after trial.
Possible Defenses to Domestic Assault & Battery Charges
The strongest defense against allegations of domestic assault and battery depends on the evidence in the case, as well as the willingness and credibility of the government’s witnesses. Below are some possible defenses at trial if you have been charges with domestic assault and battery:
If the jury (or judge in a bench trial) finds that you acted in self-defense and acted reasonably, then you must be found not guilty.
False Allegations / Motive to Lie
In cases where there is limited or no physical evidence, denying the allegations or claiming the alleged victim is lying can be an effective defense. In cases involving divorce and/or infidelity, the defendant may be able to show the complaining witness had motive to lie / make up false allegations.
The Court Process for a Massachusetts Domestic Assault and Battery Case
Like all other criminal cases in state courts in Massachusetts, an individual charged with domestic assault and battery will be arraigned at the district court which retains jurisdiction of the case.
An arraignment is generally the first court date for an individual facing criminal charges in Massachusetts. At arraignment, the defendant is formally charged with the criminal offense(s) listed on the Criminal Complaint. Depending on the specific charge(s), seriousness of the allegations, strength of the evidence, and the defendant’s criminal history, the prosecution may move to hold in custody the defendant without bail or subject to a cash bail.
In the alternative, the defendant may be released on conditions of release or on his/her own personal recognizance. Potential conditions of release include, stay away / no contact orders, no abuse orders, and orders to remain drug and/or alcohol-free. In instances where the criminal offenses are misdemeanors and were not observed by the police, the defendant may be able to avoid formal charges if no probable cause is found at a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing.
Generally, once the defendant is arraigned the case will be continued anywhere from 30-60 days for a pretrial hearing. In cases involving serious felonies, the case could be scheduled for a Probable Cause Hearing and may eventually be indicted to Superior Court where the defendant will be arraigned a second time on the same or related charges.
Pretrial & Motion Hearings
Whether the case continues in district court or is indicted to superior court, a pretrial hearing will be scheduled following the arraignment. During this time, the attorneys will exchange discovery and evidence, review the evidence, and likely engage in some plea negotiations. The government will be responsible for providing defense counsel with any discovery and/or evidence the prosecution intends on using in their case.
During a pretrial hearing, both sides will provide case updates to the court and address any issues that are in dispute. Attorneys for both sides will likely file motions, including discovery motions, motions to dismiss, and motions to suppress evidence.
Once all evidence has been provided and there are no outstanding issues or motions to be litigated, the case will either resolve by way of a plea deal or dismissal, or proceed to trial.
In district court, if the case cannot be resolved it will proceed to trial where the defendant has the option of a jury trial or bench trial. In a bench trial, the judge decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty without a jury. In a district court jury trial, a pool of six (6) jurors determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. In either scenario, the judge issues the sentence / punishment if the defendant is found guilty.
In superior court, a defendant also has the right to a jury or bench trial. However, a jury consists of twelve (12) jurors who have to unanimously decide guilty or not guilty. As is the case in district court, the superior court judge issues the sentence in the event of a conviction at trial.
What If The Alleged Victim Is Not Willing To Cooperate or Testify?
In cases where the victim does not wish to press charges or testify, the prosecution can rely on other pieces of evidence to prove the case, including:
- 911 calls (excited utterances);
- Admission / Confession by defendant;
- Observations of physical injuries;
- Independent witness(es).
What If I Have Been Charged With Domestic A&B in Massachusetts?
Allegations of domestic abuse are treated seriously in Massachusetts. In addition to the potential for strict penalties, the stigma surrounding domestic abuse may lead to serious collateral consequences in a defendant’s personal and professional life. If you, a family member, loved one, or friend is facing criminal charges related to domestic violence in Massachusetts, it is best to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your case. Riccio Law provides aggressive, reliable representation for individuals facing criminal charges in Massachusetts federal, superior, and district court. Contact us today at 508-226-4500 and schedule a free case evaluation.