When relationships break down or the end of a relationship comes as a result of some dispute, often criminal in nature, a person may seek a Restraining Order or a Harassment Order against another person. In Massachusetts there is a difference between the two: Restraining Orders, also commonly referred to as 209A Orders, apply only to close family members, or those with whom we have an intimate relationship; Harassment Orders, also known as 258E Orders, are appropriate where the relationship exists between two individuals that don’t fall into the categories of family members or intimate relationships –for example, issues between neighbors or acquaintances such as people we work with or worked with at one time.
What Should You Do After You Receive the Order or Summons?
If you receive a summons in the mail, the Court has set a two-party hearing to determine if the Restraining Order should issue. As is often the case with a summons, an Emergency Order may not have issued prior to a hearing. If you receive an Order with Notice to Appear for a hearing, it is likely because the Court issued an Emergency Order that will expire or be extended at a full hearing.
Whichever document you receive, you should contact a Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Though a Restraining Order and a Harassment Order are Civil Orders, meaning they are not a criminal matter, they are better thought of as hybrid civil-criminal matters. If an order issues against you, it does not become part of your criminal record, but the Order is entered in a statewide database that is accessible to law enforcement and the courts. Also, if for any reason you violate a condition of the Order, that violation is a criminal offense.
As you can see, a civil Restraining Order or Harassment Order can quickly affect your life and possibly result in criminal charges against you. An experienced attorney can assist you in understanding the many consequences of a Restraining Order or Harassment Order issuing against you.
Can Anyone Ask for a Restraining Order or Harassment Order?
As mentioned above, a Restraining Order is reserved for close family members or those involved in an intimate relationship. The judge must determine if the person requesting the order is in fear of imminent harm or abuse by the person against whom they are seeking the Order. This standard is commonly established by either actions that include abusive/criminal assault and/or battery or threats of similar conduct.
A Harassment Order is very different, and the Massachusetts Court of Appeals has recently decided that a person applying for a Harassment Order must establish three (3) acts that are considered a “true threat” or “fighting words.”1 Those are legal terms, but the Court explained that the “threat must [be] a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence….” In sum, a person must demonstrate three (3) separate and distinct acts of intent to commit violence against a particular individual or group. The same applies to threats or damage to property.
Because Restraining Orders and Harassment Orders have differences in what is required and also as to how to defend yourself against them, you should contact an experienced criminal lawyer to protect yourself and your reputation.
When to Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer Regarding a Restraining Order or Harassment Order?
If you have been served with a Summons to Appear for a Restraining Order Hearing, or an actual Restraining Order or Harassment Order, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney that handles Restraining Order cases. There are unforeseen ramifications to the issuance of an Order against you about which you may not be aware – an experienced criminal lawyer can help you navigate through this process.