Assault On A Family Or Household Member

An assault can be either an attempt to use some degree of physical force on another person — for example, by throwing a punch at someone — or it can be a demonstration of an apparent intent to use immediate force on another person — for example, by coming at someone with fists flying. The defendant may be convicted of assault if the Commonwealth proves either form of assault.

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M.G.L. Chapter 265, Section 13M

It is a crime to commit an assault on a person’s own family or household member. An “assault” is a legal term of art, and may be committed in either of two ways. It is either (1) an attempted battery or (2) an immediately threatened battery. A “battery” is defined by the law as a harmful or an unpermitted touching of another person.

To convict a defendant of Assault on a Family or Household Member offense, the Commonwealth must prove:

  1. the victim and the defendant were “family or household members”; and
  2. the defendant assaulted the alleged victim, in one of the two ways described above, either:
    1. By an attempted battery — the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to commit a battery — that is, a harmful or an unpermitted touching — upon the victim, took some overt step toward accomplishing that intent, and came reasonably close to doing so. With this form of assault, it is not necessary for the Commonwealth show that victim was put in fear or was even aware of the attempted battery.
    2. By an imminently threatened battery — the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to put the victim in fear of an imminent battery, and engaged in some conduct toward  the alleged victim] which [alleged victim] reasonably perceived as imminently threatening a battery.

Under the law, two persons are “family or household members” if the alleged victim and the defendant:

  • are or were married to each other;
  • have a child in common; and/or
  • are or have been in a “substantive dating relationship.”

To determine whether the parties were in a “substantive dating relationship,” a jury may consider (1) the length of time of the relationship; (2) the type of relationship; (3) the frequency of interaction between the defendant and the alleged victim; and (4) the length of time that has elapsed since the termination of the relationship. Notably, the alleged victim and the defendant’s relationship may qualify as a “substantive dating relationship” under the law, even if the relationship was not exclusive.

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