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The 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Section 18N: State domestic violence fatality review team; membership; purpose; powers and duties; local review teams; provision of information to review team; confidentiality

Section 18N. (a) As used in this subsection, the following words shall have the following meanings:—

''Domestic violence'', the abuse of a family or household member, as defined in section 1 of chapter 209A.

''Fatality'', any death resulting from an incident of domestic violence or attempted domestic violence, including the death of an individual who was not a family or household member of the perpetrator's.

''Local review team'', a local domestic violence fatality review team established pursuant to subsection (c).

''State review team'', the state domestic violence fatality review team established pursuant to subsection (b).

''Team'', either the local review team or the state review team.

(b) There shall be a state domestic violence fatality review team within the executive office of public safety and security. Members of the state review team shall be subject to criminal offender record checks to be conducted by the colonel of the state police. All members shall serve without compensation for their duties associated with membership on the state team. All members shall be immune from any liability resulting from the execution of their duties.

The state review team shall consist of the following members: the secretary of public safety or a designee employed by the executive office of public safety and security who shall serve as chair; the attorney general or a designee employed by the office of the attorney general; the chief medical examiner or a designee employed by the office of the chief medical examiner; a member selected by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association; the colonel of the state police or a designee employed by the department of state police; the commissioner of probation or a designee employed by the office of probation; the chief justice of the trial court or a designee; the chief justice of the family and probate court or a designee; and 1 member selected by the Massachusetts office of victim assistance, who shall be employed by the office.

The purpose of the state team shall be to decrease the incidence of domestic violence fatalities by: (i) developing an understanding of the causes and incidence of domestic violence fatalities and domestic violence murder-suicides and the circumstances surrounding them; and (ii) advising the governor and the general court by recommending changes in law, policy and practice designed to prevent domestic violence fatalities. The state review team, in conjunction with any local review teams, shall develop a report to be sent to the clerks of the house and senate, the house and senate committees on ways and means, the joint committee on children, families and persons with disabilities, the joint committee on public safety and homeland security, and the joint committee on the judiciary. The report shall be issued not later than December 31 of each year.

To achieve its purpose, the state review team shall: (1) develop model investigative and data collection protocols for local review teams; (2) annually review incidents of fatalities within the commonwealth and assign at least 3 reviews, selected at random, to a local review team for investigation and report; provided, that no review shall be assigned unless it is approved by a majority vote of the state review team and all criminal proceedings, including appeals, related to the fatality are complete; (3) provide information to local review teams, law enforcement agencies and domestic violence service providers for the purpose of protecting victims of domestic violence; (4) provide training and written materials to local review teams to assist them in carrying out their duties; (5) review reports from local review teams; (6) analyze community, public and private agency involvement with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and their families prior to and subsequent to fatalities; (7) develop a protocol for the collection of data regarding fatalities and provide training to local review teams on the protocol, which shall include protocol and training on the issues of confidentiality of records, victims' identities and any personally identifying data; (8) develop and implement rules and procedures necessary for its own operation and the operation of local review teams, which shall include the use of confidentiality agreements for both the state and local review teams; and (9) provide the governor and the general court with annual written reports, subject to any applicable confidentiality restrictions, which shall include, but not be limited to, the state team's findings and recommendations

(c) If the state team selects a case for review, a local team shall be assembled to participate in the review. Members of a local review team shall be subject to criminal offender record checks to be conducted by the district attorney of the district. All members shall serve without compensation. All members shall be immune from any liability resulting from the execution of their duties.

Each local review team shall be chaired by the local district attorney and shall be comprised of at least the following members, who shall be appointed by the district attorney and who shall reside or work within the district: a medical examiner or pathologist; a chief of police; a probation officer; a member with experience providing non-profit legal services to victims of domestic violence; a member with experience in the delivery of direct services to victims of domestic violence; and any other person with expertise or information relevant to an individual case who may attend meetings on an ad hoc basis, including, but not limited to, local or state law enforcement officers, local providers of social services, providers of community based domestic violence, rape and sexual assault shelter and support services, hospital representatives, medical specialists or subspecialists, teachers, family or friends of a victim and persons recommended by the state review team.

The purpose of each local review team shall be to decrease the incidence of preventable domestic violence fatalities by: (i) coordinating the collection of information on fatalities assigned to it for review; (ii) promoting cooperation and coordination between agencies responding to fatalities and providing services to victims or victims' family members; (iii) developing an understanding of the causes and incidence of domestic violence fatalities within its area; and (iv) advising the state review team on changes in law, policy or practice which may affect domestic violence fatalities.

To achieve its purpose, each local review team shall, subject to assignment by the state review team: (1) review, establish and implement model protocols from the state review team; (2) execute a confidentiality agreement; (3) review individual fatalities using the established protocol; (4) recommend methods of improving coordination of services between agencies and service providers in its area; (5) collect, maintain and provide confidential data as required by the state review team; and (6) provide law enforcement or other agencies with information for the purposes of the protection of victims of domestic violence and for the accountability of perpetrators.

(d) At the request of the local district attorney, the local review team shall be immediately provided with: (1) information and records relevant to the cause of the fatality, including those of the perpetrator or any other party involved with the fatality maintained by providers of medical or other care, treatment or services, including dental and mental health and behavioral care; (2) information and records relevant to the cause of the fatality or any party involved with the fatality maintained by any state, county or local government agency including, but not limited to, birth certificates, medical examiner investigative data, incident reports, parole and probation records and law enforcement's data post-disposition; provided, that certain law enforcement records may be exempted by the local district attorney; (3) information and records of any provider of social services, including the department of children and families and non-profit agencies, related to the victim or victim's family or any party involved with the fatality, including the perpetrator, that the local team deems relevant to the review; and (4) demographic information relevant to the victim and the victim's immediate family or any party involved with the fatality, including, but not limited to, address, age, race, country of origin, gender and economic status. The district attorney may enforce this subsection by seeking an order of the superior court.

(e) Any privilege or restriction on disclosure established pursuant to chapter 66A, section 70 of chapter 111, section 11 of chapter 111B, section 18 of 111E, chapter 112, chapter 123 or sections 20B, 20J, 20K or 20M of chapter 233 or any other law relating to confidential communications which would otherwise be held by the victim of a fatality or protect records and information directly related to such victim shall not prohibit the disclosure of such records or information, as it directly relates to that victim, to the chair of the state review team or a local review team. Any privilege or restriction on disclosure pursuant to the aforementioned statutes, or any other law relating to confidential communications not directly related to the victim of a fatality shall remain in effect; provided, however, that such privilege or restriction may be waived, in writing, by the person holding it, for the limited purposes of disclosure to the state review team or a local review team. Any information considered confidential pursuant to the aforementioned statutes received by the chair of the state review team or a local review team may be submitted for a team's review upon the determination of that team's chair that the review of the information is necessary. The chair shall ensure that no information submitted for a team's review is disseminated to parties outside the team. Under no circumstances shall any member of a team violate the confidentiality provisions set forth in the aforementioned statutes.

Except as necessary to carry out a team's purpose and duties, members of a team and persons attending a team meeting shall not disclose any information relating to the team's business.

Team meetings shall be closed to the public. Information and records acquired by a team pursuant to this section shall be confidential, shall not be considered public records, as defined in clause twenty-sixth of section 7 of chapter 4, shall be exempt from disclosure pursuant to chapter 66 and may only be disclosed as necessary to carry out a team's duties and purposes. All such records shall be maintained by the chair of the team.

Statistical compilations of data which do not contain any information that would permit the identification of any person may be disclosed to the public.

(f) Members of a team, persons attending a team meeting and persons who present information to a team may not be questioned in any civil or criminal proceeding regarding information presented in or opinions formed as a result of a team meeting.

(g) Information, documents and records of a team shall not be subject to subpoena, discovery or introduction into evidence in any civil or criminal proceeding; provided, however, that information, documents and records otherwise available from any other source shall not be immune from subpoena, discovery or introduction into evidence through these sources solely because they were presented during proceedings of a team or are maintained by a team.