Are Restraining Orders Public Information in Massachusetts?

Searching files in the public record for a Massachusetts Restraining Order.

In Massachusetts, whether a Restraining Order (also known as a protective order) is public information depends on the type of order issued. Generally, orders issued in cases of domestic violence, harassment, and sexual assault are accessible to the public once they are served to the defendant. This includes both temporary and permanent orders.

However, the details accessible to the public may not include sensitive personal information. Additionally, law enforcement agencies have access to all Restraining Orders for enforcement purposes. The records are kept in a statewide database, which can be accessed by police departments.

Understanding Public Access to Restraining Orders
in Massachusetts

When dealing with domestic violence or harassment, the legal measures available, such as Restraining Orders, play a crucial role in providing for your safety. This guide, tailored to help you understand your legal rights, dives deep into the intricacies of Restraining Orders, including Abuse Prevention Orders, Harassment Prevention Orders, and the public accessibility of these legal documents.

What is a Restraining Order
in Massachusetts?

Overview of Restraining Orders

A Restraining Order, also known as a protective order, is a civil court order granted to prevent acts of abuse or harassment against you. In Massachusetts, these orders can command your abuser or harasser to:

  • stay away from you,
  • stay away from your home, workplace and school, and
  • have no contact with you.

Abuse Prevention Order vs. Harassment Prevention Order

There are two main types of Restraining Orders in Massachusetts: the 209A Abuse Prevention Order and the 258E Harassment Prevention Order. The first addresses safety concerns involving abuse from a family member, household member or intimate partner, while the second prevents harassment from someone you don’t have any special relationship with.

Public Accessibility of
Court Records

Restraining Orders as Public Records

In Massachusetts, Restraining Orders become public records once they are served. These records are accessible through court databases and can be examined by the public, ensuring transparency in the judicial process. However, the level of accessible information can vary to protect the privacy of the involved parties.

Confidential Portions and Public Inspection

The court might seal specific sensitive portions of the Restraining Order, such as details about the alleged victim and their residential telephone number, to protect against further harm or harassment. This balancing act between transparency and privacy is a common concern in family court proceedings.

Legal Process and
Statutory Provisions

Filing a Restraining Order

Initiating a Restraining Order requires you to file an application in your local court. The next step involves a preliminary hearing which will take place the same day you file your application.  If immediate protection is needed, an Ex-Parte Order can be issued on the same day. (Ex-parte simply means that there is only one party, you in this case, that testifies at the hearing.) Your abuser or harasser will not be present. That Order will be valid for 10 business days.

If you want to extend your Order, you must go back to court on the 10th day and have a 2-party hearing. It’s called a 2-party hearing because your abuser/harasser will have been notified of the hearing and may be present to present their side of the story.

If the judge is convinced you need your Order extended they will do so. Orders are typically extended for one year.

The Role of Law Enforcement Officers

Once issued, Restraining Orders are enforced by local police officers. Enforcement includes monitoring and managing the abuser’s compliance with the terms of the order. Violations of the order are criminal offenses and can lead to arrest, highlighting the order’s importance in criminal matters. If your abuser/harasser violates the Order, you should call the police immediately.

Access to Records and
Legal Documentation

Electronic Format and Public Access

Massachusetts courts have adapted to the digital age by offering access to Restraining Orders and other court records in electronic formats via official state websites. This digital access helps individuals perform background checks or conduct preliminary people searches through public records law.

The Supervisor of Public Records

The Supervisor of Public Records plays a crucial role in overseeing the accessibility of government records, including those related to Restraining Orders. They ensure that these records are available at reasonable times and in manageable ways to the public while adhering to Massachusetts law.

Impact on Civil Matters and
Criminal Records

Restraining Orders and Criminal Background Checks

Having a Restraining Order against you can appear on criminal background checks, potentially affecting future employment and living situations. Therefore, understanding the impact of these orders on your criminal record is essential for individuals involved in such legal matters.

Civil Court Orders and Employment

Restraining Orders, especially in cases of workplace harassment, may involve employers and could influence professional relationships and opportunities. Legal advice from a skilled attorney can help navigate these complex situations without compromising professional integrity.

Privacy, Security, and
Legal Advice

Privacy Policy and Address Confidentiality Program

Massachusetts offers an Address Confidentiality Program to further protect the privacy of abuse victims by keeping their addresses out of publicly accessible databases. This program is crucial for victims’ safety, ensuring they are not easily located by their abusers.

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.

Empowerment Through Legal Knowledge

Understanding the nuances of Restraining Orders in Massachusetts empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their safety and privacy. Whether seeking protection or understanding one’s rights under the law, comprehensive knowledge and competent legal advice are invaluable.

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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