How Long Do You Go to Jail for Violating a Restraining Order in Massachusetts?

Man in orange jumpsuit and handcuffs being sentenced for violating a Massachusetts Restraining Order.

In Massachusetts, violating a restraining order can lead to serious consequences. If a person violates the specific terms of an Abuse Prevention Order or a Harassment Prevention Order—like no abuse, no contact, vacating the home, staying away from work/home, or surrendering firearms—it is considered a criminal offense. The penalty for such a violation can be up to 2.5 years in the House of Correction, along with possible fines up to $5,000 and additional probation or court-imposed requirements. Moreover, a conviction or even a continuance without a finding can affect one’s employment opportunities, housing, citizenship status, or lead to deportation​.

Introduction to Restraining Orders and Legal Protections

A Restraining Order, also known as a Protective Order, is a legal order issued by a court to protect you from being harassed, abused, or stalked. In Massachusetts, violating such an order is a serious matter and can lead to severe consequences, including jail time.

What Constitutes a Violation of a Restraining Order?

Defining a Violation

A violation of a Restraining Order occurs when an individual does something that the court has expressly forbidden in the terms of the Order. This could include:

  • physical contact,
  • sending a text message,
  • making a phone call, or
  • appearing at your place of work.

Each action against the specific terms can result in an order violation.

Range of Actions Considered as Violations

The scope of actions that may constitute a violation is broad. It can range from direct contact to indirect actions, such as sending messages through a third party. Any action that can be perceived as an attempt to communicate or come into contact with the protected individual may be seen as a violation.

Legal Implications of Violating a Restraining Order

Civil vs. Criminal Offense

In Massachusetts, a violation of a Restraining Order is treated as a criminal offense. This means that the violator can face criminal charges, and if convicted, it will result in a criminal record. Violating a Restraining Order is a misdemeanor.

Consequences of a Criminal Charge

The charges can lead to significant jail time, especially if the violation involves aggravated circumstances such as sexual relations, criminal stalking, or fear of imminent serious physical harm to the alleged victim. The punishment will be even more severe if your abuser/harasser has a criminal history, especially a history of such violations.

Jail Time for Restraining
Order Violations

First-Time vs. Subsequent Offenses

For a first-time offender, the punishment might be less severe, potentially resulting in probation or a shorter jail sentence. However, repeat offenses or violations involving physical violence can lead to much longer sentences, including several years in state prison.

Specific Jail Sentences

The length of jail time depends on the nature of the violation and the violator’s criminal history. In general, a violator could face anything from a few days in the House of Correction to up to two and a half years for more serious offenses.

The Legal Process and Defenses

Navigating the Court System

If accused of violating a restraining order, the case will typically be heard in the District Court, regardless of which court issued the Order. Massachusetts can also prosecute your abuser/harasser for violating an out-of-state order while in Massachusetts.

Building a Defense

An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide legal advice and may argue lack of probable cause or reasonable doubt regarding the violation. The attorney-client relationship is essential in crafting a defense strategy that aligns with the best interest of the client.

Factors That Influence the Severity of Penalties

The District Attorney’s Perspective

The District Attorney’s Office takes order violations seriously, and they often seek substantial penalties. They will want to hear from you as to what you would like to have done to your abuser/harasser. They have victim advocates that work in their office that as a go-between between you and the prosecutors.

Consideration of Specific Circumstances

Each case is unique, and factors such as the presence of family members, the type of order (temporary or permanent), and the nature of the violation will all influence the outcome. Your abuser/harasser’s criminal record also plays an important part when the judge decides on a punishment.

Preventative Measures and Mutual Restraining Orders

Obtaining a Restraining Order

For those seeking protection, obtaining a restraining order is a legal process that provides a shield against further abuse. It’s possible to apply for different types of orders, such as a 209A Abuse Prevention Order or a 258E Harassment Prevention Order, depending on the situation.

The Concept of Mutual Restraining Orders

Sometimes, mutual restraining orders may be issued, where both parties are prohibited from contacting each other. The violation of this type of order by either party carries similar penalties.

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.

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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