This past April, domestic violence legislation was proposed at the statehouse. Both the House and the Senate proposed somewhat different versions of the law, and this past week, a conference committee reconciled the two versions of the bill (SB1892 and H4037). Both the House and the Senate then passed the reconciled version – S2334 – into law. While the bill must still be signed by the governor before it actually becomes law, he is apparently expected to approve it shortly.
The legislation, formally named An Act Relative to Domestic Violence – creates a first offense domestic violence assault and battery charge, establishes a domestic violence offender registry, and provides education for judges and prosecutors about cycles of abuse. Though not every proposed new domestic violence offense, nor all suggested increases in fines/assessments for abuse victims or programs, were included in this compromised bill, most of the significant provisions of each version were incorporated.
Specifically, the bill includes the following changes to current law:
- Amends the bail statute to require that persons charged with a variety of enumerated domestic abuse offenses may not be admitted to bail for six hours after arrest and before a written determination has been made with respect to conditions of release to reasonably assure the safety of the alleged victim;
- Amends G. L. c. 276, § 58A dangerousness hearings to allow the hearings to be re-opened upon changed circumstances;
- Requires a reasonable attempt be made to notify abuse victims of a defendant’s release from detention on bail;
- Requires that police recruits, medical professionals, court personnel, district attorneys and assistant district attorneys all receive training relative to domestic and sexual violence;
- Expands the amount of CORI information that may be disseminated to include dangerousness hearings, requests for dangerousness hearings, and determinations of dangerousness;
- Establishes a Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team within the Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPS);
- Requires that the Probation Department maintain a Domestic Violence Record Keeping System and requires that EOPS, in coordination with the Community Justice and Mediation Center (CJAM), adopt regulations for the standardization of rules relative to disseminating an individual’s criminal and civil court history to district attorneys, assistant district attorneys, defense attorneys, and judges in certain proceedings;
- Authorizes eligible adults to possess self-defense (pepper) spray without a firearm identification card (which was previously required);
- Makes communications between police and alleged victims of domestic violence confidential;
- Prohibits visitation rights with a child for a parent who committed a rape, which resulted in the conception of that child, unless the child is old enough to choose to have contact with that parent;
- Establishes a separate Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance Fund;
- Creates certain new offenses relative to assault and batteries on household and family members, and batteries involving suffocation/strangulation, as well as increasing certain domestic abuse penalties;
- Establishes domestic violence leave pursuant to which an employee may take 15 days of leave a year from work if the employee suffers from domestic violence.
While many applaud the various provisions of the new bill, and it is undoubtedly well intentioned, there are certainly concerns about the benefits and constitutionality of at least some of its provisions – particularly the requirement that an individual be held without bail for six hours after an arrest, and the fact that certain police records previously open to the public would now be considered confidential.
If the governor does in fact sign the bill into law, individuals charged with alleged domestic violence will be facing an even more challenging and difficult battle in court. If you or a loved one has been accused of domestic violence offense, you will need an experienced attorney who is willing to challenge the constitutionally questionable provisions of the bill, and who will make sure that your rights are protected. Attorney Daniel Cappetta has successfully defended numerous domestic violence cases and is ready to take on this new law. Call him for a free consultation today.