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Most Massachusetts restraining orders require the defendant to stay away from the protected person. The typical restraining order, whether issued by district court of family court, will contain some version of the following language:

YOU ARE ORDERED NOT TO CONTACT THE PLAINTIFF…and to stay at least 100 yards from the Plaintiff even if the Plaintiff seems to allow or request contact.

Probate and Family Court Form FA-12

Such orders can last for years, if extended by the protected person. So accidental encounters between the parties may happen.

If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s important that you get away from the protected person as soon as possible to avoid violating the order and being subject to criminal charges.

According to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC),

Happening on a protected person whom one did not, and could not reasonably, know to be present is not a violation, but the party subject to the order must end the encounter by leaving.

Commonwealth v. Kendrick, 446 Mass. 72, 76 (2006).

Although this SJC decision dealt with only stay-away requirements in restraining orders, it is likely that similar reasoning would apply to stay-away requirements in harassment prevention orders.

In fact, the jury instructions for harassment order violations contains an “accidental contact” provision that is very similar to the SJC’s ruling in Kendrick. The instructions state,

If a (contact) (encounter) occurred by accident, the defendant is required to take reasonable steps to end the (contact) (encounter). The defendant must be found not guilty unless the Commonwealth proves beyond a reasonable doubt that (he) (she) could have taken steps to terminate the accidental (contact) (encounter) but unreasonably delayed or failed to do so.

Massachusetts Jury Instruction 6.740