In an effort to protect individuals from abusive situations, MA courts have been given the authority to issue restraining orders when a reasonable likelihood of harm is suspected. In many ways, this is a very good thing. No woman, or man, should be subjected to abuse. However, such broad authority to grant restraining orders also results in excessive issuance; some even use the system as a means of revenge.
A restraining order, or protection order (officially known as a 209A), is issued through civil court, not criminal. As such, a “preponderance of evidence” is all that is needed to meet the burden of proof for obtaining the 209A. In criminal cases, the burden of proof must be “beyond any reasonable doubt,” which is a far higher standard than a preponderance of evidence. If the judge believes that the evidence presented points to a likelihood that the alleged abuser will harm the petitioner, he/she will typically initiate the process.
What is a 10-Day Hearing?
The next step in the process is usually the 10-day hearing, at which point the defendant will have an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. During the 10-day window between the petition and the hearing, the defendant will receive notice of the upcoming hearing. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if there is a restraining order against you.
Temporary Order of Protection
The accused has a right to defend himself/herself at the 10-day hearing, but in cases involving imminent risk of abuse, the 10-day window could put the alleged victim in danger. A temporary (or emergency) order may be issued if the judge believes the petitioner is at risk of immediate harm. Emergency orders are actually relatively easy to obtain, as long as the alleged victim can prove a relationship with the alleged abuser. A private hearing will be held at which the petitioner states his/her reasons for requesting the temporary order. Because the person accused of abuse is not present at this private hearing, he/she won’t know about the restraining order until it’s served on them.
Do Not Go to the 10-Day Hearing Alone
Whether or not a temporary order was issued against you, it is a mistake to appear in defense of yourself at the 10-day hearing. An experienced MA defense lawyer can present evidence to the judge, perform cross-examinations, and even request that the order be dropped altogether. Not showing up for your 10-day hearing is the worst possible mistake you can make. By doing this, you will forfeit your right to defend your case, and the order will remain in effect for at least one year. If, however, you appear in court with skilled legal counsel and can prove to the judge that you do not present a reasonable threat to the alleged victim, the order will likely be vacated.
What Restrictions Might a 209A Include?
The specific orders of protection within a 209A vary based on the particulars of each case. They may include:
- an order to leave the residence immediately;
- an order to stop all forms of abuse;
- an order to stay a certain distance from the alleged victim at all times;
- an order to stay away from the children.
In addition to the possible orders of protection above, all 209As carry a mandatory order to surrender firearms. Continue reading