In August of 2014, Governor Patrick signed an “Act Relative to Domestic Violence” which imposes significant changes to arraignment, bail, detention, and criminal penalties in cases involving “domestic abuse.” These changes include the requirement that a person accused of domestic abuse be held in custody for at least six hours after arrest, unless bail is set in open court by a judge prior to the six hours expiring. The judge may consider the safety of the alleged victim or anyone else in the community when setting bail, which significantly increases the likelihood that a high bail will be set. Any person charged with domestic abuse will have his or her name placed in a newly created statewide domestic violence database and that name will only be removed if the accused is acquitted of the charges or the grand jury refuses to indict. The name will remain in the system even if the case is dismissed.
The Act creates the new crimes of “Domestic Assault” and “Domestic Assault and Battery,” both of which carry maximum sentences of 2.5 years in the House of Correction (county jail). If a person accused of either crime has a previous conviction or continuance without a finding for one of these crimes, he or she will be charged as a “subsequent offender” and faces up to 2.5 years in the House of Correction or up to 5 years in state prison. A subsequent offense conviction is a felony. The Act also creates the new crime of “strangulation,” which previously had been charged as attempted murder but rarely resulted in a conviction since strangulation does not necessary come with the intent to kill. The penalty for strangulation is up to 2.5 years in the House of Correction or up to 5 years in state prison. For any strangulation offense resulting in serious bodily injury, or where the victim is pregnant, or where there is an active restraining order, or the defendant has been previously convicted of a strangulation offense, the penalty is increased to up to 2.5 years in the House of Correction, or up to 10 years state prison.
These changes in the law not only imposes significant hardship on the person accused of domestic abuse, but also on his or her family if they do not want to see their loved one held in custody. The alleged victim cannot simply “drop” the charges. Once an arrest has been made, the prosecutors take over. Most Assistant District Attorneys are unreceptive to an alleged victim’s claim that the arrest was a misunderstanding or overreaction. Many District Attorney’s Offices have strict policies in place that prevent the prosecutor from dismissing the case, even if the alleged victim recants his or her accusations.
If you or a loved one has been charged with domestic abuse you need a domestic abuse lawyer, please contact me for a consultation. With offices conveniently located in Belmont, MA and Lowell, MA I represent clients in courts throughout the Greater Boston Area, north of Boston, and Metrowest Boston.