If you have been served with a harassment prevention order in Massachusetts, you likely have a few questions. Namely, what exactly is a harassment prevention order and what limitations does being served with one put on your life?
Since harassment prevention orders only came into existence in 2010, it’s not surprising that many people don’t know about them. We’ll cover what a harassment prevention order is, how it affects you, and what you can do to fight against a harassment prevention order below.
What is a Harassment Prevention Order?
A harassment prevention order is a form of what you might call a restraining order. It is designed to prevent you from harassing, abusing, threatening, stalking, or even communicating with the person who got the order. Before 2010, it was necessary for a certain relationship between the person served with an order of this nature and the person seeking the order. This has changed to allow people to seek orders based on an individual’s behavior regardless of their relationship to the person.
With a harassment prevention order, a judge can order you to stop abusing or harassing the plaintiff, stop contacting them, stay away from their home and workplace, or pay restitution to them in some circumstances. Harassment prevention orders are sometimes issued ex parte, meaning you would not need to be present in the courtroom for the order to be issued. When this happens your first notification of the order will come when you are served with it.
After being served there is a hearing which you and the plaintiff should attend. Failure to attend this hearing can result in the order being extended by default. At the hearing, you will get a chance to defend yourself which could allow you to prevent the order from extending.
The judge will decide whether the harassment prevention order is extended and for how long it will be in place. However, the judge cannot extend it for a period greater than one year. A harassment prevention order is a civil matter and therefore will not be on your criminal record. However, there is a separate record for harassment prevention orders and domestic restraining orders. If the order is issued, it will appear and remain on that record.
How Does a Harassment Prevention Order Affect Me?
Harassment prevention orders are of a civil nature but they can quickly lead to criminal charges if you are alleged to have broken the conditions of the order. When this happens it’s important to speak to an attorney that can help defend you so that you don’t end up with a criminal charge that could affect your life five, ten, or twenty years down the line when you’re looking for employment, housing, gun licensing, or other prospects.
Also, while the civil harassment prevention order is civil in nature, there is a record of the order maintained in the Massachusetts statewide domestic abuse record system. As the name suggests, this is the same record system where they keep records of domestic restraining orders. The police and courts have access to these records and use them to make decisions about bail and sentencing in future criminal cases, as well as, future restraining order matters.
The conditions of your harassment prevention order will determine what actions you are barred from doing. These will be decided based on what the plaintiff requests and the judge ultimately orders:
- If they request you don’t abuse or harass them: Then you will be breaking the conditions of the harassment prevention order if you physically assault or threaten them, do anything that makes them reasonably fear you will harm them, or use force to make them have sex unwillingly.
- If they request you don’t contact them: You will break the conditions of the order if you get within a set number of feet/yards from them (as determined by your specific order), if you contact them in any way including (but not limited to) texting, calling, emailing, reaching out on social media, sending gifts, or using friends to reach out to them. If you’re in a store or somewhere public and they enter, you must leave as quickly as possible.
- If they request you stay away from their work or home: Then you will break the conditions by getting within a certain distance to the location in question, even if the individual is not present.
If they request that you be ordered to pay money: Then you may be made to pay for costs related to the situation such as medical bills, lost wages, or money they spent changing locks to keep you away.
How do I Fight a Harassment Prevention Order?
Fighting against a harassment prevention order can be an extremely difficult situation to find yourself in. It can feel like the courts and the legal system are designed to ensure that you lose. However, you shouldn’t let this get in the way of defending yourself.
The best tactic for fighting against a harassment prevention order is to show that the allegations against you have been exaggerated, are entirely false or do not rise to the level of “harassing” behavior. In most cases, the plaintiff is required to demonstrate at least three (3) separate harassing acts. Many people do not understand what rises to the level of harassment. It is more than merely annoying behavior. Generally, the behavior must rise to the level to demonstrate that the plaintiff has a legitimate fear that they or their property will be physically harmed if the order is not issued. The standard is stringent enough that in many cases you have a fighting chance of keeping the harassment prevention order from issuing against you.
But doing so is not always an easy task. It is important that you act swiftly to gather evidence that proves the allegations are false. What form this evidence takes will depend on what is alleged against you. For example, if you’re accused of stalking them at a certain time then you could present evidence that shows you weren’t where they said you were. It is important to maintain copies of any and all communications you may have had with the plaintiff, including voicemails, emails, text messages and social media messages. You should also preserve any photographic or video evidence which may assist you.
Remember, you should never represent yourself. The services of an experienced attorney will go a long way in improving your chances of fighting a harassment prevention order.
Where can I Find an Experienced Attorney to Help Defend Me from a Harassment Prevention Order?
If you’ve been served with a harassment prevention order in Massachusetts then you should reach out to Contant Law. Our team of experienced professionals knows the law inside and out and they understand what goes into a solid defense.
A harassment prevention order might be civil in nature, the fact that it can escalate to criminal charges makes it something to not take lightly. If you’ve been served with a harassment prevention order, you should give us a call at (617) 227-8383 for a free consultation to learn what moves to take next.