What Can the Police Do About Harassing Texts in Massachusetts?

Woman reading harassing text message in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, harassing texts can be addressed by the police under the criminal harassment statute (MGL c. 265, § 43A). Victims can file a police report, and officers can investigate the situation. If the texts are threatening or involve repeated harassment, the sender may be charged with criminal harassment, which can result in fines, imprisonment, or both. Additionally, victims may seek a harassment prevention order from a court under MGL c. 258E, which can prohibit the sender from contacting them. Police involvement and judicial measures aim to stop the harassment and protect the victim.

Understanding Harassment Through Electronic Communications in Massachusetts

Introduction to Criminal Harassment Charges

In Massachusetts, the rise of electronic communication devices has led to an increase in harassment cases involving:

  • text messages,
  • instant messages, and
  • other internet communications.

It’s important to know that such harassing behavior can be stopped with the help of the court.

What Constitutes Criminal Harassment?

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 43A, a crime of criminal harassment occurs when a person engages in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person which seriously alarms that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress.

In addition, harassment can also be three or more separate acts of harassing behavior aimed at you that causes you alarm. This type of harassment is not considered criminal in nature, but the court recognizes the terrible impact it can have on your life. If you’re suffering from this type of behavior, you may qualify for a Harassment Prevention Order.

The Legal Process for
Handling Harassment

Filing a Police Report

If you are the victim of criminal harassment, the first step is to file a police report. It’s important to document all instances of harassment, as law enforcement will need detailed information to proceed with your case. You can do this simply by visiting your local police station and telling them what’s going on. Be sure and bring any proof with you to show what your harasser is doing or saying.

Seeking a Harassment Prevention Order

Massachusetts courts can issue a harassment prevention order if you can demonstrate a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of harassment. This court order can restrict the harasser from contacting or approaching you and may carry penalties if violated.

Criminal Penalties
and Consequences

Consequences for the Harasser

A conviction for criminal harassment can result in fines, a sentence to the House of Correction, or even state prison, particularly for subsequent offenses. The severity depends on the nature of the harassment and any prior offenses.

Impact on the Victim

You might experience ongoing fear, leading to requests for more comprehensive protective orders. The legal system aims to provide relief and protection to prevent further emotional or physical harm. You should always feel free to go to court and ask for their protection. That’s why they’re there.

How to Obtain a Harassment Prevention Order

Understanding the Criteria

To obtain a Harassment Prevention Order in Massachusetts, the alleged victim must demonstrate that the harassment caused fear of imminent serious physical harm or involved sensitive information.

There are three ways you can qualify for an HPO:

  1. Your harasser committed three or more separate incidents of harassing behavior aimed at you that caused you alarm,
  2. You had unwanted sexual conduct with your harasser because they forced you, threatened you, or put you under duress, or
  3. Your harasser committed certain crimes against you.

Legal Steps to Acquire an Order

The process typically begins in your local court. You need to fill out your application for the order, then go before the judge for an ex-parte hearing. Ex-parte just means that you will be the only one testifying. Your harasser most likely won’t be there. If the judge is convinced you need an order right away, they will issue you a Temporary Harassment Prevention Order that’s good for 10 days. If you want the order extended, you must go back to court on that day for a 2-party hearing. This time, both you and your harasser will be there to talk to the judge. Your order may be extended for up to 1 year.

Preservation of Rights
and Evidence

Documenting the Harassment

Preserve all communications, including:

  • texts,
  • emails, and
  • social media messages.

This documentation can be crucial in court to establish the persistent nature of the harassment. Also, make a list and take statements from anyone who witnessed any of the harassing behavior.

Protecting Your Rights

An experienced attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process. It’s important to know how to present your case to the court. That includes:

  • completing the written statement,
  • preparing evidence and
  • speaking to the judge.

Criminal Record and Subsequent Life Impact

Potential for a Criminal Record

Being charged with criminal harassment can result in a criminal record, which can affect employment, housing, and more. It is crucial to handle these charges correctly to avoid or minimize these long-term impacts.

Violation of a Harassment Prevention Order

In some cases, it might be possible to have the records sealed or expunged. Discuss these options with your attorney to understand the possibilities based on your specific circumstances. It’s also possible to appeal the original decision regarding your Restraining Order. Although both expungements and appeals are possible, they are very rare.

How Legal Representation
Can Help

Building a Case

An attorney can help develop a theory of the case. This includes looking at the actions your harasser has taken and how to present them to the judge. Also, keep in mind that not all annoying activities are considered harassment. The First Amendment to the Constitution protects a lot of offensive speech. Only speech that is considered:

  1. Fighting words, or
  2. True threats

qualify as harassing speech. An attorney can help you decide what is harassment and what is not.

Navigating the Court System

Legal representation is invaluable in navigating the complexities of the court system, from the first time you walk into court to fill out the paperwork all the way to your 2-party hearing. There are a lot of steps and it’s important to know what to do.

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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