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10 Laws You Should Know If You're in Massachusetts

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is rich with history and, befitting its revolutionary past, a number of unique state laws.

Massachusetts was the state where the Pilgrims set up their first settlement. The state also played host to the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which began the Revolutionary War.

Fortunately, things have certainly settled down a bit from those days in Massachusetts. But whether you're traveling through or looking to relocate, it's a good idea to become familiar with Massachusetts' laws. Here are 10 laws you should know if you're in Massachusetts:

  1. Lawyer required for real estate closing. In many states, hiring a real estate attorney is optional when buying or selling a home is optional. In Massachusetts, however, a lawyer is generally required to handle the closing or settlement of a real property conveyance.
  2. Residents responsible for clearing snow. Under Massachusetts law, homeowners are liable for the buildup of snow and ice on sidewalks adjoining their property. Prior to 2010, Massachusetts property owners were not liable for the natural buildup of snow. But following a court decision reversing the previous law, homeowners may be liable for injuries or accidents caused by the snow if they fail to remove it.
  3. No waiting period for firearm purchase. Although Massachusetts generally has relatively strict gun control regulations in place, the state does not enforce a waiting period for the purchase of a legal firearm.
  4. Medical marijuana is allowed. Following a voter initiative passed in 2012, medical marijuana cultivation, use, and possession were legalized in Massachusetts. Under the law, patients with a valid registration card issued by the state can possess up to a 60-day supply of cannabis.
  5. A DUI is called an OUI. What is known as a DUI or DWI in other states is known as an OUI -- operating under the influence -- in Massachusetts. But like other states, the legal BAC limit for operating a vehicle is 0.08 percent, and being arrested for OUI can result in jail time, significant fines, and other penalties.
  6. Abortion protester buffer zone. Previously, Massachusetts required that protesters outside of abortion clinics in the state provide a 35-foot buffer zone around entrances, exits, and driveways of reproductive health care facilities. After that law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, the state passed a new law allowing police officers to order protesters to move 25 feet away from clinic entrances for eight hours if they block access to the clinic.
  7. No life without parole for juvenile offenders. In 2013, Massachusetts' highest court ruled that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders were unconstitutional. Under Massachusetts state law, offenders as young as 14 can be tried and convicted as adults. Following the ruling, however, these offenders can no longer be sentenced to life without parole.
  8. Upskirt photos are illegal. Following a court decision that found a state voyeurism law did not apply to secretly taking photos up a woman's skirt, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a law specifically criminalizing the practice of taking photos or video up a woman's skirt or down her blouse. A violation of the law is punishable by up to two and a half years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
  9. You can change your name to (pretty much) whatever you want. Unlike the crowd at the fictional Boston bar in "Cheers," sometimes you don't really want to go where everybody knows your name. Fortunately for those looking to start fresh or just change it up a little bit, under Massachusetts law a person can legally change his or her name to more or less anything "unless such change is inconsistent with public interests."
  10. Same-sex marriage is legal. Not only is same-sex marriage legal in Massachusetts, but the state was actually the first in the country to legalize same sex marriage, having done so in 2003.

To learn more about the laws in Massachusetts, head over to FindLaw's section on Massachusetts Law.

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