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DVCC Attorneys Take On Dual Arrests & Offender Accountability

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Persistence appears to be paying off as DVCC legal advocates forge ahead with their campaign to influence the way the legal system responds to victims of domestic violence. Last March they provided state legislators, other policy makers and members of Connecticut’s criminal justice system with research and testimony advocating for new policies aimed at reducing dual arrests in domestic violence cases and for the tightening of eligibility requirements and follow-up procedures for offenders who are offered entry into batterer programs as an alternative to prosecution.

Additionally, the DVCC hosted Dr. Andrew Klein, a nationally recognized researcher, statistician and expert on the criminal justice system’s response to crimes of domestic violence, for a two day symposium. Dr. Klein presented his research and findings on dual arrests to a wide variety of individuals responsible for how Connecticut’s criminal justice system handles cases of domestic violence.

A domestic violence “dual arrest” occurs when both parties are arrested and charged in criminal court. Such arrests are extremely detrimental for numerous reasons: they re-victimize the victim by labeling her as an offender; they adversely impact the level of trust the victim has in law enforcement to provide protection; and they make it difficult for prosecutors to effectively prosecute the true offender. According to Dr. Klein, Connecticut has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest intimate partner dual arrest rate in the nation. Recent statistics released from the Judicial Branch indicate that a dual arrest is made in 16.5% of all domestic violence incidents in Connecticut, which is significantly higher than the 3.8% national rate and also compares poorly with rates in the neighboring states of Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts.

According to research cited in a DVCC position paper on dual arrests, Connecticut is one of the last states in the nation to have a domestic violence mandatory arrest law (meaning police must make an arrest in cases of domestic violence) without a companion predominant aggressor provision. Such a provision would require police to take into account certain factors in order to determine which party is the likely aggressor and which is the likely victim. Such provisions have been shown to significantly reduce dual arrest rates across the country.

While Connecticut state legislators have, over the last two sessions, passed several pieces of legislation that benefit victims of domestic violence, they recognized that much more work needed to be done. As a result, the Connecticut General Assembly created the Law Enforcement Response to Domestic Violence Task Force charged with developing a model policy for law enforcement response to domestic violence. One of the 16 people named to serve on that task force was Andrea Dahms, a DVCC staff attorney who has been an active advocate for changes in the Connecticut legal system’s response to victims of domestic violence.

In December, the task force issued its report, which included recommendations intended to address dual arrests, including: that police be provided with clearer guidelines regarding evaluating claims of self defense so that they can use better judgment when deciding whether an arrest of both parties in a domestic violence case is necessary; that a supervisor review all domestic violence arrests; that a standard state-wide curriculum be developed to train police on responding to domestic violence; and that in-service police training for domestic violence be required annually, as opposed to once every three years, and that such training include updates on statutory changes and best practice responses. Other recommendations encouraged the judicial branch to work more collaboratively with court-based domestic violence victim advocates and to enhance domestic violence training for judges and prosecutors; suggested that bail commissioners include evaluations of victim safety when determining release conditions; and proposed giving court-based domestic violence victim advocates access to non-conviction information to enhance safety planning efforts with victims.

“This is a good start towards bringing Connecticut’s dual arrest rates more in line with the rest of the country,” Dahms said. “We’ll know we have made real progress when that number decreases and we see fewer victims being inappropriately charged with criminal conduct for protecting themselves.”

While the Law Enforcement Response to Domestic Violence Task Force did not address the issue of increasing accountability for batterers enrolled in the Family Violence Education Program, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence has adopted this issue as one of its priorities for the 2012 legislative session.