What Evidence is Needed to Prove a Case of Harassment in Massachusetts?

Magnifying glass looking at evidence of Massachusetts harassment.

To prove a case of harassment in Massachusetts, a plaintiff must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant’s actions meet the legal definition of harassment. Harassment prevention orders can be sought under General Laws Chapter 258E, and plaintiffs may request an order if they have experienced three or more acts that were willful, malicious, aimed at them, and intended to cause fear, intimidation, abuse, or property damage, and did indeed cause such harm. Additionally, if there has been a forced sexual act or threat thereof, or if the defendant has committed certain serious crimes such as indecent assault and battery, rape, or criminal stalking, an order may be justified.

Understanding Harassment Prevention Orders: A Massachusetts Legal Guide

Facing harassment can be a profoundly disturbing experience. If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s important to understand that Massachusetts law provides mechanisms for your protection. This guide aims to navigate you through the complexities of obtaining a harassment prevention order, explaining the nuances of the legal process, and highlighting the evidentiary requirements set forth by Massachusetts courts.

The Basis for Harassment Prevention Orders

Harassment Prevention Orders, which are one type of Restraining Order, are civil orders designed to protect you from harassment, whether it’s through unwanted:

  • text messages,
  • phone calls, or
  • any other form of electronic communication.

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 258E, you have the right to seek such an order, commonly known as a 258E order, if you have been subjected to a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time that has caused you substantial emotional distress.

Initial Filing: Your First Step Towards Safety

The process begins with filing an application form in your local court. This application form is a critical first step, as it sets the legal process in motion. It’s important to provide as much specific information as possible, detailing the instances of domestic violence or harassment. Sensitive information should be handled with care, but it’s crucial to the strength of your case.

Ex-Parte Hearing

You’ll have a hearing before the judge on the same day you file your application. This hearing is called an ex-parte hearing. Ex-parte is just a Latin phrase that means one party. You’ll be the only one addressing the court. You harasser will most likely not be there. This is your first opportunity to present evidence to the judge as to why you want the order. It’s important to have this evidence available. Make sure you have things that show how you’re being harassed, such as:

  • text messages,
  • emails,
  • social media communications, and
  • telephone calls.

You may also want to bring witnesses with you that can testify to the harassing behavior. It’s also nice to have a friend with you for emotional support.

Understanding the Legal Standard:
Preponderance of the Evidence

During the hearing, you have the burden of proof to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the harassment occurred. That just means that it’s more likely than not that the harassment occurred. This legal standard is less demanding than ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ used in criminal cases.

How Does the Order Protect Me?

A Harassment Prevention Order is civil in nature. However, a violation of that order is a crime. That means if your harasser continues their harassing behavior after the Order has been issued, they could be arrested and sentenced to jail. This is what gives these orders their power.

Renewing Protection:
The Importance of a Civil Order

Once obtained, it’s important to note that a civil order like the Harassment Prevention Order needs renewal after a certain period of time. At these renewal hearings, you must demonstrate a continued fear of imminent serious physical harm, or ongoing harassment, to justify the extension of the order.

If your judge thinks it’s appropriate to extend the Order, they may do so for up to one year. You’ll have to come back to court every year to continue extending it.

It’s possible to have a permanent Harassment Prevention Order, but they’re rare. A permanent order is only used in the most extreme cases. And the term permanent is a little misleading. Even if there is a permanent order, your harasser still has the opportunity to have the order modified or terminated.

When Harassment Becomes a Criminal Offense

 Separate from civil orders, if the harassment escalates, criminal charges may be filed. In cases of sexual assault or indecent assault, the matter transitions from civil case considerations to criminal defense. Knowing when to seek the aid of a criminal defense attorney is critical if criminal harassment charges are brought against you.

Why Legal
Representation Matters

Even though Massachusetts law allows individuals to represent themselves, navigating the legal system can be challenging. An attorney-client relationship ensures that you have someone knowledgeable about the state’s laws to guide you. There are several steps involved and each one has to be done correctly in order to ensure you the best possible chance of getting the protection of a Restraining Order.

Help Getting a Restraining Order in Massachusetts

If you’d like help getting a Restraining Order without paying an expensive attorney, we can help. With our Legal Coaching we can walk you through every step to make sure you’re ready for your hearing. The first thing to do is see if you qualify for a Massachusetts Restraining Order. Click on the link below to see if you qualify for either type of Restraining Order.

Remember, if you’re facing harassment, you’re not alone. Taking legal action can be a powerful step toward reclaiming your peace of mind. By understanding and utilizing the Massachusetts General Laws, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from further harm. Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help — it could be the most important factor in securing your safety and well-being.

Legal Disclaimer

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances and receive tailored guidance.

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