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What is the difference between assault and battery?

We often hear the terms “assault and battery” together— used in common speech, reported on the news, and discussed regarding criminal charges. The two crimes may seem similar at first, and that is partially because some states frequently charge one offense in conjunction with the other. Assault and battery, however, are two separate crimes that have different definitions.

There can be serious legal penalties for both crimes. If you are facing charges of assault, battery or both, it is important to fully understand the distinctions between the two.

What is in the Massachusetts criminal justice reform bills?

Late last month, the Massachusetts senate passed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill. The House has now followed with its version. In order for criminal justice reform to become law, the two halves of the legislature will have to agree on a final version, pass it, and send it to Governor Baker for his signature.

What reforms are being considered? They hit on a number of topics, including adjusting sentencing for a variety of offenses, increasing the use of diversion programs, and making the system fairer for people of modest means. MassLive put together an excellent comparison between the two bills. Here are some highlights:

The factors that can affect your OUI-related license suspension

Drunk driving charges of any kind are serious, and Massachusetts drivers accused of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol could face serious penalties if convicted. However, there are certain factors that could make the stakes even higher, increasing the penalties associated with your OUI, specifically the length of the license suspension.

The cost of a criminal conviction is high, no matter the details of your individual case. Whatever you are up against, you would be wise to take your situation seriously and fight for the best possible outcome for your individual situation. When charged with an OUI, it is prudent to take quick action to build a strong defense.

Report: State crime lab withheld pro-defense evidence in OUI cases

A report by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety found that the State Police Office of Alcohol Testing routinely failed to provide pro-defense information to defendants' attorneys as is required by the law and constitution.

The 126-page report states that the Office of Alcohol Testing "made serious errors in judgment" during the discovery phase of criminal trials. During this phase, the prosecution is required to provide notice of its entire case, along with any evidence they have that could help the defense's case.

DOJ announces voluntary limits on gag orders after email warrants

Last year, Microsoft sued the federal government over its practice of routinely issuing gag orders when it presented warrants for emails. According to an 18-month analysis by Microsoft, the Department of Justice issued indefinite gag orders under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 in 68 percent of cases where it served warrants on Microsoft for customer emails. These indefinite gag orders require Microsoft and other companies to remain silent about the warrant until further notice, or forever.

In its lawsuit, Microsoft alleged that this practice violated its First Amendment right to communicate honestly with its customers. It also claimed that the practice violated its customers' Fourth Amendment right to know when the government has searched or seized their property.

Study: Hiring an OUI defense lawyer could actually pay for itself

Being convicted of OUI in Massachusetts can really cost you. Even a first-time OUI can mean jail time, a minimum fine of $500, the loss of your driver's license for a year, a permanent police record and more. The penalties are higher for those under 21, if you refuse the breath test, or if you are found guilty of OUI more than once.

The legal penalties are substantial, but you're also facing a sharp increase in your auto insurance rates. A recent study by the online insurance comparison site QuoteWizard found that, on average, being convicted of a first-time OUI increases your insurance by $4,000 over five years.

Spanish-speaking OUI arrestee fights inaccurate rights translation

Even after the City of Methuen's Spanish translation of a rights notice was thrown out by a judge, a Spanish-speaking woman claims it is still being used to coerce arrestees. She has filed a federal class action to compel Methuen to correct its form, as it has promised to do in the past.

The plaintiff, a Spanish speaker, was stopped on suspicion of OUI in October 2014. Believing, due to the rights form, that she was forced to choose between submitting to the breath test or having it used against her, she submitted and pled guilty to OUI. Ultimately her case was overturned, in part because of the defective rights form.

Is it fair to suspend your license for failure to pay a fine?

A new report by the nonprofit Legal Aid Justice Center asks whether state policies that suspend driver's licenses for inability to pay fines are a good idea. Are these "license-for-payment" policies fair, or are they counterproductive and costly?

The report concludes that they are not only costly and counterproductive but also unfair and even unconstitutional in some cases. They take away something most people need in order to earn money -- a valid driver's license -- leading to long-term involvement in the criminal justice system. That's costly for the courts and community, effectively erasing any supposed benefit from having defendants "pay their way."

Seeking guidance before a hearing for a chemical test refusal

Staring down accusations for driving under the influence of alcohol can be a stressful and daunting experience. If recently involved in a traffic stop, which led to accusations of intoxication, you might have felt somewhat intimidated by the process and uncertain of what to do.

If asked to provide a toxicology sample, you might have chosen to decline a chemical test, which likely led to an immediate suspension of your license. However, if you maintain your innocence and wish to challenge this decision, you may be in search of guidance on what comes next.

ACLU calls for thousands more tainted drug cases to be dismissed

"The Amherst drug lab crisis represents a complete collapse of the criminal justice system," reads a petition submitted to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Committee for Public Counsel Services' Public Defender Division, Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, and the law firm of Fick & Marx, LLP.

The high court has already dismissed 20,000 drug convictions that were tainted by evidence-tampering and other misconduct by a former state chemist. The chemist pled guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine she was meant to be testing. According to the new petition, the chemist was also under the influence of various drugs on a nearly daily basis between August 2004 and January 2013.

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