Launching Soon: Court-Wide Domestic Violence Training

Online & Mandatory

The program is a collaborative effort involving the Trial Court, the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts, and the Trial Court Domestic Violence Education Task Force. The training initiative consists of four online modules. It will provide “a baseline level of information about domestic violence for everyone in the courthouse, including clerks, probation officers, case managers, court officers, facilities management, and counter staff,” says Taskforce Chair and District Court Judge Marianne Hinkle. “The Donahue Institute worked closely with our team to create content that will engage and inform a wide audience.”  

The topics covered by the program include: the impact of domestic violence on victims; the impact of exposure to domestic violence on children; risk assessment; and information about intimate partner violence. Each module will take approximately 30 minutes to complete. The training is self-directed, enabling viewers to review each segment at their own pace. 

All court employees and guardians ad litem will be required to complete the training within a specified time period. Regular training regarding domestic violence and sexual assault is now required for all Trial Court employees under the provisions of An Act Relative to Domestic Violence enacted on August 8, 2014. Supervisors will be asked to provide time and a private location for employees to complete the training program.     

Initial round of DV training now complete. Over the past year, judges of the Superior Court, Boston Municipal Court, District Court and Juvenile Court, chief probation officers from all court departments, and personnel authorized to take bail, such as assistant clerks and bail commissioners, have completed specialized domestic violence risk assessment training. Probate and Family Court judges will receive training this fall regarding risk assessment factors relevant to the issues faced in that court department.   

What’s next. Starting in the winter of 2016, additional in-person training regarding domestic violence will be offered as a complement to the online training program. The in-person training will be conducted at the employee’s court location and will last approximately two hours. Additional future projects in the area of domestic violence include an update of the Trial Court Guidelines on Domestic Violence, a risk assessment pilot project for the Probation Department, and the creation of best practices for handling domestic violence related cases in each Trial Court Department.

System Upgrades

Data sharing. In addition to new training, An Act Relative to Domestic Violence has also prompted enhancements of the court system’s use of technology to provide decision makers with related criminal histories. The Trial Court has developed new data systems within MassCourts that capture and communicate information related to three areas:

  • Allegations of abuse as outlined in G.L. c. 276, § 56A
  • Dangerousness hearings under G.L. c. 276, § 58A
  • Restraining order affidavits

A more complete picture. The new system makes this information much more accessible to judges and court personnel across Trial Court departments. For the first time, cases entered into MassCourts’ online case management system are now linked to the CARI system, which tracks a person’s criminal history through the courts. With the new system, judges and court personnel will be able to see if any cases listed on the CARI involved allegations of domestic violence, if the defendant has been the subject of any 58A hearings and, if so, whether any findings regarding dangerousness were made by the judge. 

Judges and court personnel are able to view affidavits filed in support of restraining orders issued after August 8, 2014 in any court department. Restraining order affidavits filed in the Probate and Family Court have been scanned for several years. All of those restraining orders can be accessed through this system as well.

Judge Hinkle lauded the intensive efforts of the Judicial Information Services (JIS) and the Probation Department to create this link between MassCourts and the CARI system, calling it “an enormous undertaking,” crediting JIS Chief Information Officer Craig Burlingame, Commissioner of Probation Edward Dolan, and their respective staffs for working tirelessly together for several months to link these complex systems together for the first time.  

 

Shining a spotlight on domestic violence. Trial Court Domestic Violence Education Taskforce Chair and District Court Judge Marianne Hinkle has been involved with issues related to domestic violence for much of her career. Prior to her 2005 appointment to the bench, Judge Hinkle served as an Assistant District Attorney with the Norfolk District Attorney’s office for 13 years, where she became the director of that office’s domestic violence and sexual assault units. Judge Hinkle is currently the Chair of the District Court’s Domestic Violence Committee. 

"Judge Hinkle was extraordinarily well-suited for this project," said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey. "She did not hesitate for a moment in agreeing to spearhead the effort. She has exceeded all expectations in the development of the new training program."

See Taskforce members.

 

NEW DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CRIMES

A. Domestic Assault or Assault and Battery. Prior to the August 2014 legislation, the only criminal offense easily identified as involving domestic violence was violation of a restraining order. It was generally not possible to tell if, for example, an assault and battery charge, assault with a dangerous weapon or malicious damage to property involved allegations of domestic violence.

An Act Relative to Domestic Violence created the offense of domestic assault or assault and battery (G.L. c.265 sec. 13M). This new crime covers any assault or assault and battery where the named victim is a current or former spouse, one who shares a child in common with the defendant or one who is involved in a substantive dating relationship with the defendant. 

The maximum penalty for this offense is 2½ years in a house of correction and/or a fine up to $5,000.

The law also creates an aggravated penalty for a second offense, with up to 5 years in state prison or up to 2½ years in a house of correction.

B. Strangulation. The law also creates a new crime of strangulation or suffocation, G.L. c. 265, § 15D. The maximum penalty is 5 years in state prison or up to 2½ years in a house of correction and/or a fine up to $5,000.

The law creates an aggravated offense if certain additional factors are present.