According to the Lawrence Eagle Tribune, an Andover couple convicted of harassing their neighbor, State Representative James Lyons Jr., will be spending Christmas in jail after a jury in the Lawrence District Court found them guilty of criminal harassment and related charges. Apparently, approximately three years ago, in 2008, William and Gail Johnson were arrested while out on their morning run and charged with making false accusations of child abuse, criminal harassment, identify fraud and making a false report. One of the Commonwealth’s key pieces of evidence was the testimony from Gerald Colton, a former friend of the Johnson’s, who implicated the pair in the illegal activities. Following three hours of deliberations both were found not guilty on the identity fraud count. William Johnson was convicted of criminal harassment and making a false accusation of child abuse to the department of family services. Gail Johnson was convicted of criminal harassment. The judge sentenced William Johnson to eighteen months in prison and Gail Johnson to six months in jail. The pair will also serve a probationary term when they are released. Although criminal harassment is considered a misdemeanor, because the maximum penalty is a sentence in the house of correction as opposed to state prison, the Judge apparently had not patience for the troubling behavior of the Andover couple and sent them to prison for the holidays.
Relative to the crime of criminal harassment Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265 Section 43 A states the following:
Whoever willfully and maliciously engages in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person, which seriously alarms that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, shall be guilty of the crime of criminal harassment and shall be punished. . .
In Massachusetts, in order to establish that there has been a “pattern of conduct or series of acts” there must be three or more incidents and the alarming conduct must be directed to a specific person, the person who is seriously alarmed by the harassment. See, Commonwealth v. Welch, 444 Mass 80, (2005).
In Massachusetts an individual can apply for civil restraining orders if certain conditions are met. The “traditional” type of restraining order is the “209A” restraining order. In order to have a “209A” restraining order issue the parties must be “family member” or have been involved in a substantial dating relationship. The plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she has been subjected to “abuse”.
Massachusetts recently enacted another type of civil restraining order typically referred to as a “Criminal Harassment Prevention Order.” In order to apply for this type of order the parties do not have to be related, dating or have been involved in a substantial dating relationship. Chapter 258E provides that a plaintiff can get a civil harassment prevention order if it can be established that the defendant engaged in the following conduct: (1) ”3 or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at a specific person committed with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property and that does in fact cause fear, abuse or damage to property”; or (2) a single act that “by force, threat, or duress causes another to involuntarily engage in sexual relations”; or (3) a single act that constitutes one of 12 enumerated crimes involving sexual assault, stalking, or harassment.
The first branch of harassment has five components. The first requires that there be three or more acts of harassment. The additional requirements are as follows: (1) Each act must be aimed at a specific person; (2) Each act must have been both willful and malicious; (3) Each act must have been done with intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or property damage; and (4) Each act must in fact have caused fear, intimidation, abuse or property damage.