Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Use of GPS in Domestic Violence

Domestic violence defendants previously in violation of a restraining order may be required to wear a GPS device, under a law passed earlier this month. Chapter 418 of 2006 allows the court to define certain geographic exclusion zones, such as the victim’s workplace or school, and use GPS technology to track the defendant. Then, “ if a court finds that the defendant has entered a geographic exclusion zone, it shall revoke his probation and the defendant shall be fined, imprisoned or both as provided in this section.” More on domestic violence is available at Mass. Law About Domestic Violence.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Police Vehicles and the Law

Peter DeMarco had a great column in the Boston Globe recently on the laws affecting the operation of police vehicles.

Here are a few quotes about what police officers can't do. From Quincy Police Captain John Dougan, "We don't have the right of way all the time. Only when we're on a call. The rest of the time we're like regular citizens. We have to follow the rules of the road like everyone else." From Jack Collins, of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. "Can an officer park in a handicapped space? Of course not."

The article goes on to highlight a few laws affecting emergency vehicles and our response to them:

1. "By law, police must still come to a complete stop before driving through a stop sign or red light." (Chapter 89, section 7B)

2. "Police vehicles must also stop for school buses loading or unloading children, unless otherwise directed by a traffic cop." (Chapter 90, section 14)

3. "If you intentionally get in an emergency vehicle's way you can be fined $50 or jailed for three months." (Chapter 89, section 7 and 7A)

More information on traffic laws is available at Mass. Law About Traffic Violations.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Child Brides

In Massachusetts, under MGL c.207, s. 25, a person under eighteen cannot marry without parental consent . Massachusetts does not have a law specifying the minimum age at which a person can marry with a parent’s consent. The process requires court approval, so whether or not to authorize the marriage of a particular minor is within a judge’s discretion.

Yet if you search the web, several sites suggest either that the minimum age to marry here with parental consent is 14 for boys and 12 for girls, or that it is 16 for both. Where do these ages come from?

The notion of a minimum age of 14 for boys and 12 for girls comes from an 1854 case, Parton v. Hervey, 67 Mass. 119. In this case, a 13-year-old girl got married without her mother’s consent, and her mother was forbidding her from going to live with her new husband. The court ruled that while it is illegal for someone to perform a marriage of a minor, the marriage itself is only voidable, not void. So the minor could get out of the marriage if she wanted to, but that the marriage was not void as a matter of law, as long as the minor was above the “age of consent.” The case then went on to say that the age of consent in Massachusetts (in 1854) was fourteen for males and twelve for females, and thus the girl was still married and her mother couldn’t keep her from her beloved husband. This case was most recently cited in 1977 in Baird v. Attorney Gen., 371 Mass. 741 , for its basic premise “A marriage ceremony involving a freely assenting minor, acting without parental consent, has been held valid, although, because of the minor's age, the ceremony was performed in violation of law.” This case did not reiterate the ages of 12 and 14.

Presumably, the concept that the minimum age is sixteen for both males and females comes from that same notion, that a minor above the age of consent may have a valid marriage. Massachusetts does not have a general age of consent for all things (for example, consent to medical treatment or kidnapping are different). For sexual matters, though, sixteen is generally called the “age of consent,” because sex with a person under sixteen is prohibited by MGL c.265 s.23. And so some websites state that you can marry here with parental consent at sixteen, and without it at eighteen. But just the law does not list a minimum age of twelve, it doesn't give a minimum age of sixteen either.

The truth is both simpler and more murky. In Massachusetts, if a parent consents to a minor child’s marriage, authorization must still be obtained from the Probate or District Court. The judge will use his or her discretion to determine if the marriage is in the child’s best interest. As far as we can determine, there is no minimum age; there also is no requirement that the judge approve any request. Each case is simply decided on its own merits.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Teen Driving Law Signed

In his last hours as governor this week, Mitt Romney signed a new law requiring more training before getting a license and providing stricter penalties for teen drivers who commit traffic violations. The new new penalties are effective on March 1, 2007 and the training requirements on September 1, 2007.

Same-Sex Marriage Amendment Advances

This week, the Massachusetts legislature voted 62-134 to put the proposed constitutional amendment to limit marriage on the November 2008 ballot. The measure needed only 50 votes to pass. It will need to pass again in next year’s legislative session to be placed on the ballot. For much more on the issue, see Mass. Law About Same-Sex Marriage.