Massachusetts Domestic Violence Charges: A Tough Legal Policy

Massachusetts domestic violence charges are one of those types of criminal offenses that can be very vague. When people first hear “domestic violence,” most immediately conjur up images of women being brutally beaten or abused by a spouse or boyfriend. While that can be tragically true, it’s not always necessarily so. “Domestic violence” is an amorphous term. Could you say right now what that term really means? The truth is, that while it can mean violent or harmful physical abuse – in which case it should be prosecuted – sometimes these charges reflect anything but a violent, abusive physical confrontation. Sometimes, the event that occurs is little more than an argument. Yet, people can very easily end up in court facing this kind of charge. As a Boston domestic violence lawyer, I see it all the time.

Why and how does this happen, if what occurred in a given situation really wasn’t violent or “abusive,” (as most reasonable people would interpret that term)? Two answers: 1) Hyper-caution, and 2) Liability issues. You see, in days gone by (the “bad old days,”) when a couple got in an argument and police were called, officers used their discretion in deciding whether or not to arrest someone accused at the scene of domestic violence or Massachusetts assault and battery charges. If police sensed that what occurred between the couple was very minor and did not present a safety issue for either person, they would typically de-escalate the situation, urge the couple to resolve their conflict, and, if they felt neither partner’s safety was threatened, they’d leave, file a report, and no one would be arrested.

Or, when an arrest was made, the case would be dealt with very lightly by prosecutors and judges. Then, some time later (perhaps months, perhaps a couple of years,) that same couple would have another fight, and one of them (usually the woman, but not always,) would end up being severely beaten or killed. For those of you unfamiliar with public relations, that results in front-page news and political outcry. Whose picture ends up on the front page and in news broadcasts? A) The judge who let the defendant off easily; B) The District Attorney who didn’t prosecute the case aggressively enough and C) The city or town Police Chief, whose officers didn’t make an arrest when called to the scene. Result? Big trouble, for a lot of people. Worse, on a financial level municipalities began being sued by victims of domestic violence, who claimed negligence on the part of the city or town police department, for not arresting the accused abuser.

The end product of all this? A revamped, hyper-cautionary approach to both the way that police departments respond to domestic violence calls, as well as a revamped, highly-aggressive prosecutorial approach to domestic violence cases by District Attorneys’ offices and the Assistant District Attorneys who prosecute these cases. Now, when police respond to a domestic violence call, it is almost a foregone conclusion before they arrive on the scene, that someone is going to be arrested. They simply will not take any chances. Why? In terms of organization charts, the reasoning is all vertical: Because the officers who respond don’t want to take the chance that they could be disciplined if they make a mistake. Then their Shift Supervisor will be disciplined, as will their Captain. The trouble will flow uphill to the Chief of Police, who will then have to answer to either the Mayor or the Board of Selectmen.

On the District Attorneys’ side, the Assistant DA handling the case doesn’t want to treat the case lightly and risk his or her job, in the event that the defendant ends up back in court on another, far more serious domestic violence charge at some point down the road. His or her supervisor also doesn’t want to risk his or her job for the same reason. And the District Attorney, who is elected in Massachusetts and is in effect a politician, certainly doesn’t want his or her name in the news for the same reason. And let’s not forget the judge: He or she doesn’t want their picture on Page One either, as the “judge who let a domestic violence suspect off the hook easily.”

The end result: Someone in a couple is almost always arrested when police are called to a domestic disturbance. I always offer this metaphor to my clients who ask me about these cases: Assume a 6′ 5″ 300 pound football player is married to or dating a 4’5″ woman, who weighs 75 lbs. Police respond to a domestic violence call at their residence, and the 300 lb. football player accuses the 75 lb. wife or girlfriend of hitting or striking him. That 75 lb. woman is going to be arrested. Period. And once these cases get into court they are NOT dealt with lightly anymore.

This toughened approach, of course, errs on the side of caution. And given the mistakes that may have been made in the past, that’s probably a wise approach. But regardless, the net effect is the same, and if you are arrested on Massachusetts domestic violence charges, you will need a very talented Massachusetts domestic violence attorney or a Boston assault and battery lawyer.

Or, you could choose the best defense of all: Respect each other. Don’t EVER physically abuse each other. For anyone who feels that they are the victim of domestic violence, click on this link for resources you can turn to.