Assault and Battery on a Family or Household Member (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §13M)

Assault and battery on a family or household member is a misdemeanor if it is a charged as a first offense. This means you can be punished by no more that two-and-one-half years in the house of correction. A second offense of domestic assault and battery is a felony, and can be punished by up to five years in state prison.

Most of us believe an assault and battery occurs by punching or violently striking a person. The law is much broader. You can be guilty of assault and battery if you simply touch somebody, even slightly, if you had no right or legal excuse to touch the person and without that person’s consent. Even if the person did consent to being touched, you can still be found guilty if the touching was likely to cause physical injury to that person.

You can also be found guilty of assault and battery if you did not intend to touch them, but did so “recklessly” and the person was injured as a result. An example of a “reckless assault and battery” is wildly swing your arms while you are near another person. Even if you did not mean to strike the person, you have committed an assault and battery if you do strike them accidentally and they are injured.

A “family or household member” under this law is a (1) spouse or former spouse, a (2) person you have had a child with or (3) a person you have dated “substantively.” A “substantive” dating relationship has no firm definition. It generally means a person you have have dated with some level of seriousness.

It is important to note that this definition of “family or household member” is more narrow than the the definition that applies to Massachusetts 209A restraining orders (and restraining order violations). That law includes as “family or household members” (1) spouses and ex-spouses, (2) people who live or have ever lived together, (3) people related by blood or marriage, (4) people who have had a child together and (5) people in a “substantive dating relationship.” M.G.L. ch. 209A §1.

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