Middlesex district attorney seeks tougher laws on domestic violence

Marian Ryan, currently the Middlesex District Attorney, recently urged state lawmakers to adopt four anti-domestic abuse measures to protect victims and allow repeat offenders to face stiffer penalties. While there are laws in place in Massachusetts dealing with the punishment of those accused of domestic violence, many believe there is room for improvement; Ryan is one. In her testimony at a hearing before the Joint Judiciary committee at the State House, she cited a case in which a Middlesex defendant violated three separate protection orders 17 times, but only faced prosecution for a misdemeanor each time.

One bill which Ryan endorsed would remove domestic assault and battery from a list of crimes that can be resolved through accord and satisfaction. An "accord and satisfaction" is a statutory scheme by which the victim must acknowledge in writing to the court that he or she has received "satisfaction" (most likely a payment, but the payment could be negligible) for the injury; the judge, in exercising discretion whether to dismiss the charge on that basis, must be informed of what "satisfaction" has been received. Thus, the judge decides whether the prosecution for the crime continues or not.

The purpose of removing domestic assault and battery from the accord and satisfaction remedy is to prevent victims from the danger of being pressured into reaching an accord and satisfaction. Another bill would provide tougher penalties for those who repeatedly violate the terms of a protection order.

Current remedy: 209A protection order

In Massachusetts, women and men who are victims of domestic violence may seek what is known as a 209A protection order. The order can apply to:

  • Persons who are or were married to one other.

  • Persons who are or were residing together in the same household.

  • Persons who are or were related by blood or marriage.

  • Persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they were ever married or lived together.

  • Persons who are or have been in a substantive dating or engagement relationship in certain instances.

The person seeking the order can request different means of protection, including, but not limited to:

  • Ordering the defendant to refrain from abusing the plaintiff (the person who filed the petition seeking the order).

  • Ordering the defendant to refrain from contacting the plaintiff.

  • Ordering the defendant to vacate and remain away from the household, multiple family dwelling or workplace.

  • Ordering the plaintiff temporary custody of a minor child.

  • Ordering the defendant to pay temporary support for the plaintiff or any child in the plaintiff's custody or both if the defendant has a legal obligation of support.

  • Ordering the defendant to pay compensation for losses suffered as a result of abuse.

If the plaintiff presents evidence that there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse, the court can order the defendant to surrender any firearms he or she owns in addition to licenses for such firearms.

If you are a victim of domestic violence and wish to seek a protection order, speaking to an experienced family law attorney can help you understand your rights and determine the steps you want to take next. If you find yourself or your child in immediate danger, contact a law enforcement officer or a domestic violence hotline.