How Domestic Violence Charges are Handled Differently in Massachusetts Trial Courts During the COVID-19 Pandemic & Beyond

The Massachusetts trial courts have been essentially closed since March 13, 2020, and are scheduled to reopen on May 4, 2020 (as of the publishing of this post).

The court closure, as well as Governor Baker’s “stay at home suggestion” have led to a drastic decrease in arrests. There are two reasons for this.

  • First, with less people leaving their homes, and with most businesses closed, there are simply less criminal acts taking place. This, of course, will lead to a reduction in arrests.
  • Secondly, even when the police suspect a crime occurred, they have been using their discretion to issue a summons to court rather than arresting the person accused.

This means that instead of booking the person in the police station and having them go to court the next business day, the person will be mailed a letter informing them of their court date.

A summons is a good result for all parties in the criminal justice system. With the courts closed, all new cases are being done via telephone with limited personnel, so the reduction in new arrests helps alleviate the burden in each court house.

The police like this result as well, as the less people that are brought into the station for booking, the less they have to worry about being infected with the coronavirus. This also benefits the accused, as they have time to seek out an attorney and prepare their defense before going to court.

While DUI cases and theft related cases may be down, one category of cases has skyrocketed – domestic violence. The reason for this is that many people are stuck at home during this nerve racking and uncertain time.

There has also likely been a surge of false accusations of domestic violence as it is, and always has been, looked at as a way to have your partner removed from the house.

Unlike DUI cases or even regular assault and battery cases, the police do not have the discretion to summons someone for domestic violence. Instead, the accused must be arrested and held for at least six hours prior to their release from either the station or the courthouse. See:

Common Massachusetts domestic violence charges

Some of the most common domestic violence related charges in Massachusetts are:

  • Assault on a Family/Household Member,
  • Assault and Battery on a Family/Household Member,
  • Suffocation/Strangulation,
  • Malicious Destruction of Property,
  • Witness Intimidation.

Each of these charges have important case law that can be used to defend cases in court.

Another important distinction that domestic violence charges carry is that unlike many other charges in Massachusetts courts, people can be under the misconception that you do not need a lawyer for these charges as their partner plans to “drop the charges.” Unfortunately, this simply is not how it works.

Once the police are involved, the victim, or accuser, cannot drop the charges – only the District Attorney can do that. Moreover, the District Attorney will not drop the charges. While that was once the common practice in Massachusetts District Courts, since the murder case against Jared Remy in 2007, the District Attorneys have in essence refused to simply drop domestic violence cases – even when the accuser recants or says they do not want to go forward. Because of this, these charges must either be brought to a trial date or plead.

Often times district court Assistant District Attorneys will even try to convince unrepresented defendants that they should plead guilty to such charges when in reality the District Attorney would have an impossible time proving the case at trial. Because of this, it is imperative that a person charged with domestic violence contacts an attorney right away.

If you have been charged with domestic violence, or any other crime in Massachusetts, call (617) 941-3666 today for a free consultation and ensure that you are protected.