Until recently I advised clients that they could not be convicted of violation of a restraining order in Massachusetts unless three elements were proven:
1. A clear order
2. A clear violation; and
3. An ability to comply with the order.
The first two elements are fairly clear. The third element covers situations like a chance encounter in a store or a restaurant. A chance encounter should not result in criminal conviction. This still seems to be the status of the law. However, a series of recent cases changed the element of a clear order. Now, a person subject to a restraining order must obey the clear language of the order as well as the intent of the order.
In the case of Commonwealth v Telcinord a woman was ordered to stay away from her husband and to stay 50 feet away from him. She followed him in her car as he drove his car. Presumably she stayed the requisite 50 feet away. She was convicted of violating the restraining order because following in her car was a violation of the order to stay away. The defendant's behavior by the way she drove her car indicated that she wanted her husband to know she was following him and that she intended to confront him.
It appears that engaging in behavior that is intended to cause the protected person to become aware of the whereabouts of the defendant is a violation of the restraining order. A restraining order is intended to insulate the protected person from the presence of the defendant or from any form of unauthorized contact. Any intentional contact that causes the protected person to see the defendant may be considered to be a violation of the order.
In Commonwealth v Goldman, the Court explained what “stay away” in a restraining order means. Stay away
prohibits a defendant from (1) crossing the residence's property line, (2) engaging in conduct that intrudes directly into the residence, and (3) coming within sufficient proximity to the property line that he would be able to abuse, contact, or harass a protected person if that person were on the property or entering or leaving it. A protected person need not actually be present for such a violation of the order to occur.
Stay away can no longer be interpreted as a set distance. It is a concept that the person should stay far enough away from the protected person and their home so that the protected person can go about their activities without coming into contact with the Defendant. Truly accidental contact won't be a crime but contact in the vicinity of a protected person's home or work is likely to result in a conviction for violation of a restraining order.
If you are subject to a restraining order I recommend that you contact a lawyer familiar with restraining orders so that you understand what you are permitted to do and what you are not permitted to do.