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Domestic assault and battery charges and COVID-19

This could be the worst time in history to be arrested. For the most part, we are seeing the arrest numbers dramatically decrease. Many police officers are concerned about any type of contact with people and arresting only those they feel like they absolutely have to arrest.


Domestic violence incidents are cases that have lead to arrests. As more people are stuck in the house together, combined with financial distress and often alcohol it is a recipe for disaster. There are many reasons why it is a tough time to be arrested.


1. Arraignments and bail issues


With courts being closed to the public, arraignments are a difficult affair. Some defendants are being released on bail and given a date months away for arraignment. While others are being held and the arraignments are being held over the phone. Even though courts are closed until June 1, 2020, the courts are still operating for emergency hearings. If a defendant is being held pending an arraignment, the court is considering that an emergency situation and hearing bail arguments, mostly over the phone. This system is far from perfect as phone arraignments has many legal implications.


2. Time delay


Normally there are certain time standards known as speedy trial rights. Given to current pandemic the Supreme Judicial Court has suspended those rights until courts are open again on June 1, 2020. Time delays can be a major issue for defendants who don't want an employer, school or landlord to see an open criminal case. Even if the case ends up being dismissed, having an open domestic assault and battery case can ruin a person's job, school or housing. The court has also suspended the statute of limitations, giving prosecutors more time to bring a charge against a defendant.


3. Being held in jail for a long time


The courts are running on reduced staff to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, this makes it very difficult to get a court hearing. Normally, a person being held on bail can get a bail review and try to reduce that bail pretty quickly. Right now, due to the reduced staffing and influx of COVID-19 related release requests, it can take a long time before the court allows for a hearing on a person's case. There are a lot of issues with COVID-19 and jails. There is a lot of concern about COVID-19 spreading quickly inside of jails, jail visits for friends and family have been suspended, and it has been difficult for many clients to contact their attorneys due to jail procedures and quarantine. And despite what some people may say, not everyone is getting out of jail due to COVID-19.


4. Restraining orders


A lot of domestic assault and battery cases come with restraining orders. Restraining ordres in the age of COVID-19 creates a lot of issues. Even though restraining orders are civil in nature, the violation is a criminal offense. A criminal court can hear, issue and enforce a restraining order. Restraining orders can prevent a defendant from living in a certain place. Housing issues are a main concern with the COVID-19 crisis. Given a restraining order can prevent a defendant from living at a certain place, this can make many living arrangement difficult and can leave a defendant homeless.


5. 58A Dangerousness Hearings


58A dangerourness hearings in the COVID-19 era is a problem. The statute allows a person to be held without bail for long period of time. Certain counties are known to file a lot of 58A requests for domestic violence cases. A hearing is then set to figure out if the defendant is a danger. If a defendant is unlucky enough to be held on a 58A detainment it can be awhile before that person is released.


Many times a neighbor will call the police. Even if the alleged victim in the case doesn't want the defendant being charged, the defendant can still be held and charged. Once a criminal case is started, the victim can request that the case be dismissed, but the prosecutor can continue to prosecute the case despite the victim's wishes. To make matters worse, a victim can be forced to testify against the defendant. Domestic violence cases can take a long time, be very emotional, and have catastrophic results to everyone involved. They are difficult to navigate normally and COVID-19 has added an extra layer of issues.

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