Compassionate Boston Domestic Violence Attorney Ready To Assist You
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The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) estimates that one in every four women will experience domestic violence—but that doesn’t mean every domestic violence claim is valid. In the middle of a heated argument, it can be just as easy to make a false accusation as it would be to commit an act of violence.
At Keegan Law, our team of criminal defense attorney is prepared to help individuals facing accusations of domestic violence. Backed by a proven ability to win not guilty verdicts and other favorable results in complex criminal cases, we are confident that we can provide the competent representation you deserve.
Why hire our experienced Boston domestic violence attorney?
- You benefit from the insights of a former police officer and prosecutor
- Our highly recommended team has secured many successful case results
- We’ve been included in National Trial Lawyer: Top 100 and Super Lawyers®
When you need a skilled defense of your reputation, freedom, and future, you can rely on our legal advocates. With more than four decades of combined experience to pour into your case, we can deliver the personalized, tenacious advocacy you need. Don’t hesitate to see how we can stand up for your rights.
Schedule your free case review with a proven defender today!
What Exactly Qualifies as Domestic Violence?
Basically, under Massachusetts law, domestic violence can be any abusive action taken by one “family or household member” against another. But, to get a better understanding of what this actually means, we need to take a look at what our state law defines as “family or household member” and “abuse.”
Family or Household Member Defined
- People who are or were married to one another
- People who are or were living together
- People who are related by blood
- People who are or were related by marriage (not necessarily their own)
- People who may not have ever been married or lived together, but who share a child together
- People who are or have been in a substantial dating or engagement relationship
Clearly, that last one requires some thought. In fact, it requires a determination by the trier of fact (typically a jury but can also be the judge) that the relationship was “substantive.” So how does the fact finder determine if the relationship qualifies? They look at several factors:
- What was the length of time or duration of the relationship?
- What type of relationship was it exactly?
- How often did the couple interact with one another?
- How often do they interact now?
- Did one of the people involved terminate the relationship?
- How long has it been since the relationship ended?
After considering these factors, the fact-finder decides if the relationship qualifies as a domestic one under Massachusetts law. Then the question moves on to the definition of “abuse.”
The law of Massachusetts says that any criminal act of abuse is domestic violence. This includes:
- Attempting to cause actual physical harm,
- Actually causing physical harm,
- Placing another person in fear of imminent serious physical harm, or
- Using force, duress, or threats to force someone into unwanted sexual acts.
Types of Domestic Violence
Now that we covered the definitions, let’s look more closely at the types of domestic violence.
Assault: Defined as attempting or showing the intention to physically harm another person. Actual physical contact does not happen in an assault. An assault can also happen by placing the victim in fear of imminent physical harm – whether it is done through just words or words and actions.
Battery: This is when one person deliberately makes actual contact without consent or in a way that is likely to cause harm. Once that contact is made, it is a battery.
Sexual Violence: Any use of coercion or threats to force someone into sexual acts against their will is domestic violence. This is true regardless of the relationship. In other words, you can be raped by a boyfriend or spouse and that crime would have domestic violence implications.
Stalking: Stalking occurs when the defendant is found to have knowingly engaged in a series of acts that are directed at the complainant. In order for the requisite “series” to be found, there must be at least 3 incidents showing a pattern of behavior. The following criteria must also be met:
- The acts would cause significant emotional distress in a reasonable person;
- The acts caused the complainant to become extremely annoyed or scared;
- These acts must have been done willfully and maliciously, and
- The accused must also have threatened the complainant while intending to place them in a state of fear of serious bodily injury or death.
Violation of Restraining Order: If a complainant has a restraining order in place, the accused must adhere to all the provisions therein. Violation of any provision in such a court order can be prosecuted, even if no harm came to the complainant.
All of these are domestic violence crimes in Massachusetts. Crimes like kidnapping and intimidation of a witness can also be included – but to qualify as domestic violence crimes, they must happen between people in the aforementioned relationships.
What are the penalties for a domestic violence charge?
As with any criminal charge, the penalties for a domestic violence conviction rests in the details. Specific facts could enhance or lessen the charges, as well as the severity of the punishment. The severity of punishment is directly proportional to the severity of the crime.
So as a jumping-off point, let’s look at the penalties you could face in Massachusetts for simple charges with no aggravating or mitigating factors:
- Violating a restraining order: Penalties could include 2.5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. One must also pay for the plaintiff’s legal costs and undergo a batterer’s intervention program.
- Assault and battery : Penalties could include 2.5 years in prison and a $1,000 fine or more.
- Stalking: Penalties could include 2.5 to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
The above penalties are the baseline. However, aggravating factors can result in up to 5 years in state prison and up to a $5,000 fine. Such factors include:
- When a serious bodily injury results from the battery
- The alleged victim was pregnant at the time of the incident
- The alleged victim had a valid restraining order in place at the time of the incident
- When it is the accused’s second or subsequent offense
Furthermore, there are factors that can result in upgraded charges and sentences of 10 years or more in prison for a first offense.
- If a dangerous weapon was used in the commission of the battery, the charge goes from simple assault and battery to aggravated assault and battery.
- If the accused is over 18 years old, and the battery was done to a child under 14.
- When strangulation or choking was involved.
- When the complainant is elderly or disabled.
Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges
Now that we’ve covered some specifics on what constitutes a domestic violence charge and what the penalties are, let’s discuss some possible defenses.
A person is allowed to defend themselves when they are being threatened by another individual. And while self-defense is a widely understood concept, you should be aware that there are limitations. For instance, you are only allowed to use as much force as necessary to stop yourself from being harmed. In other words, if someone comes at you with their fists and you pull out a semi-automatic gun, your defense may not hold up in court. The smallest detail can matter in situations like these, which is why it is in your very best interest to obtain the help of an experienced Boston domestic violence lawyer.
Defense of Others
Very much like self-defense, defense of others allows a person to use force to defend the welfare of another individual when they are in danger of harm.
Defense of Property
You are allowed to defend your property, but be aware of the limitations to this defense. While there are no absolutes in law, it is safe to say that there are very few instances (if any) where a person is allowed to use deadly force to defend their property. So defending your property is legal, but only up to a certain point.
What should I do if I’m accused of domestic violence?
The first thing that you need to know is that once the police are called, there is almost certainly going to be an arrest. Massachusetts police generally operate on a mandatory arrest policy in such matters. What this means is that once someone claims to have been assaulted or worse in a domestic capacity, the police will arrest someone even in the absence of any clear evidence that an assault has actually happened. Often, there is not much more “investigation” into these matters at the scene than the testimony of the alleged victim. So if you go into this as the accused, and you think that you will be able to talk your way out of an arrest – think again. This is highly unlikely, and if you speak to the officers whatever you say becomes part of the record and can be used against you. There is very little value in speaking up, so the best thing you can do is assert your right to remain silent until you see your lawyer. This will give you the best shot of being cleared of the charges after the dust settles.
My accuser wants to drop the charges, so I have nothing to worry about, right?
Wrong. Another common misconception is that the alleged victim in a domestic situation actually has any control over the outcome of the case. Once that phone call is made to 911 and the police show up – the alleged victim loses control over whether charges are pursued. Once an arrest is made it is now in the hands of the prosecutor. But you may wonder why a prosecutor would pursue charges if the alleged victim says they no longer want to go forward. Well, here’s why.
In a significant number of actual domestic violence abuse situations, actual victims of an abuser often go back to the abuser over and over again. So as far as the prosecutor is concerned, the fact that the “victim” is recanting does not mean that the abuse never happened. In fact, in many cases it simply means that the victim is headed back into a deeply abusive relationship cycle. So they will often press forward with the prosecution despite the alleged victim’s desire to drop the charges. The prosecutor can even use their subpoena power to force the alleged victim to testify in court, or else face jail time for contempt of court. So do not make the mistake of thinking that once the alleged victim changes their mind that your charges will magically disappear. You need the help of an experienced attorney to challenge the validity of these charges in order to have the chance for a good outcome.
Meet Joe Keegan
Joe Keegan is a seasoned criminal defense attorney in Boston. Originally from Quincy, Joe graduated from Curry College and the New England School of Law. He served the United States Army from 1989 to 1991 as a Desert Shield / Desert Storm soldier and the Massachusetts National Guard from 1991 to 1997. Joe is also a former MBTA police officer and former Quincy law enforcement officer. Today, he is a member of the Norfolk County Bar Association, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, and the Massachusetts Bar Association. Visit Joe’s full, professional profile to learn more about his experience and qualifications.
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