Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney

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Restraining Orders in the Age of COVID-19

Many aspects of life have changed over the past couple months. The courts have faced unprecedented challenges during this time. Our courts were never meant to operate remotely and yet the pandemic has caused us to re-think how our entire court system operates. Even though the courts are not open to the public right now, they are still handling emergency matters. Restraining Orders and Harassment Prevention Orders are considered to be an emergency and are still being addressed by the court.

Rise of Domestic Violence

Due to the necessity of staying home, work-life pressures, and stress from layoffs, domestic violence incidents have increased as a result of the pandemic. This in turn leads to many people requesting the court issue an Abuse Prevention Order commonly known as a Restraining Order against the person they claimed abused them. Just like during normal times, if a person seeks an ex parte order and the Court issues it, there will be a two-party hearing ten days later. The hearings though are being held remotely- by means of phone or videoconference. If the judge extends the Order at the two-party hearing, it is usually extended for a year. Importantly, if the Order is extended, the defendant can request an in-person hearing once courts reopen.

Anyone who has an order extended without the benefit of an in-person hearing, should request one once courts reopen. There is a significant disadvantage when hearings are held remotely and especially by phone instead of video conference. One of the most important being a judge’s ability to weigh the credibility of the person seeking the Order. A person’s body language and mannerisms cannot be observed over the phone. If the person seeking the order is going to be impeached with text messages, emails, or other documentation, this is also more persuasive and effective when done in person as opposed to by phone.

Restraining Orders Staying In Effect

If the Restraining Order or Harassment Prevention Order issued prior to the courts closing, and both parties already had the opportunity to be heard at a previous hearing, then the Order will remain in effect until the Court schedules a new two party hearing. This hearing will not take place until courts reopen. For example, if a Restraining Order issued against you for one year on March 30, 2019, then your extension hearing was likely scheduled for March 30, 2020. Since the courts were closed, the Order will remain in effect and you should receive a notice from the court with a new hearing date once the court reopens. Because things are a bit chaotic within the court system, if you fall into this category, you or your attorney if you have one should be contacting the court to find out their specific procedure and to make sure you know the new hearing date.

At Sweeney & Associates our attorneys have handled many Restraining Order and Harassment Prevention Order hearings. If you find yourself facing a hearing to determine whether the Order should be extended, contact us today at Sweeney & Associates for a free consultation. We can be reached at (617) 328-6900 or mail@rsweeneylaw.com.

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