DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CONTINUES TO BE A PREVALENT ISSUE IN BAXTER COUNTY:
Greetings to all! For this issue of our newsletter, I decided to speak about a topic that has had an impact on many people in Baxter County, including law enforcement and the judicial system. That topic is what we in law enforcement generally call “Domestic Disturbance Complaints”, which encompasses many aspects of behavior involving families and those who live together or are in dating relationships. Domestic Disturbance Complaints involve not only criminal offenses over which law enforcement has jurisdiction, but also includes other kind of domestic abuse, such as mental and emotional abuse, example of which include coercion, intimidation, and verbal degradation directed toward someone. All Sheriff's Deputies have refresher training each year on what the role and obligation of law enforcement is when dealing with these “Domestic Disturbance Complaints”. In fact, this month deputies and officers from other agencies will receive specialized training on the sub-topic of the enforcement of Orders of Protection. These orders are frequently issued in Domestic Violence cases to provide a measure of protection to victims. This training will be given by retired Circuit Judge Robert McCorkindale and is being sponsored by Serenity, Inc. It is important to have yearly refresher training on these issues because the laws relating to Domestic Violence issues change each time the state legislature meets every two years. Since January, 2005, the Sheriff and I have required deputies to make written reports on each and every complaint call we receive of a Domestic Disturbance nature, whether the complaint is founded or unfounded and whether an arrest is made or not. The Sheriff's Office responds to many Domestic Violence calls each year as indicated below: 2005 approximately 265 reports 2006 approximately 310 reports 2007 approximately 420 reports. As you can see from these numbers, despite the enhancements to the laws governing Domestic Violence, Sheriff’s Deputies seem to be responding to more and more of these calls each year. I believe part of this can be attributed to the ever increasing population of Baxter County. Statistics indicate that making an arrest has more of a deterrent effect than using separation or mediation to attempt to settle the incident. Approximately 28% to 30% of these calls results in an arrest being made or citation being issued. In my opinion, this percentage should be higher, but there’s only one (1) person on the scene of these calls who can determine whether the fourth amendment’s constitutional standard of probable cause has been reached, based on facts, that will allow an arrest to be made or citation to be issued. That person is the deputy who is investigating the complaint. That decision has to be made in the field and on the scene. State law allows officers to make an arrest without a warrant if the offense involves injury to a person (Battery) within twelve (12) hours of the offense occurring. If there is no injury, then the officer has four (4) hours in which to make an arrest without a warrant. It's possible to file charges later through the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office after a follow-up investigation is concluded, but that requires going through the warrant process. That takes time, and it can be a cumbersome process. A criminal investigator is assigned to follow-up on each domestic violence incident report, particularly if an arrest was not made on scene and additional investigation is needed. Officers are often frustrated to find that even if they do make an arrest, the victim often ends up requesting that charges be dropped due to victim becoming reconciled with the offender. The victim’s participation is not necessarily required to proceed with prosecution, but I have found that the judicial officials will generally acquiesce to the wishes of the victim in this regard, unless evidence of substantial injuries can be presented to the court to prove the charges independent of the victim's willingness to testify. Training I have attended in the past seems to indicate that, on average, the victim of a Domestic Violence incident will allow herself or himself to become battered approximately seven (7) times before severing the relationship completely and for good. It’s a continuing phenomenon that has been identified as a re-occurring “Cycle of Violence". There are many reasons for this, including feeling sympathetic toward the offender, the victim not believing she or he has the ability or financial resources to make a go of it alone, and the victim fearing for the safety of children or other family members if they leave the offender for good. So although it's difficult for some to understand why, there are reasons why victims of Domestic Violence allow themselves to become re-victimized after an initial battering incident. So what exactly is required for an officer to make an arrest or issue a citation on a Domestic Violence offense? Let's enumerate the steps one by one. 1. The officer must have “probable cause" to believe that a suspect has committed an act that is deemed to be a criminal offense under the laws of the State of Arkansas or the Ordinances of Baxter County. Probable Cause is a legal, constitutional standard. Only the officer on scene has authority to make that decision on the spot. The arrest/non-arrest decision cannot be made by the victim, by a witness, by an advocate, by an attorney, or by anyone else. Each criminal offense has particular “elements" of that crime, each and every one of which must be present before the offense has occurred. What a lay person might classify as an assault or a threat may not meet the criteria for such under the law. Only the officer can make that decision on the scene. The decision can be reviewed later by Supervisors or the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, but only the responding officer will make that determination on scene. 2. If the officer decides that the elements of an offense are present, then he may make a custodial arrest or may issue a citation to appear in court for that offense. A custodial arrest is preferred by the Sheriff's Office whenever it is allowed under the law. The offender will be transported to the Detention Center and booked in. Unless the offense is for violation of a No Contact Order or Probation Violation Hold, then the offender will immediately have bail set for the offense(s) he or she is charged with. If bail can be made, the Detention Center must release the offender from custody. 3. If bail is made and the offender is going to be released, then the Detention Center will serve the offender with a No Contact Order, signed by a Judge, that prohibits the offender from returning to the residence or having any further contact with the victim pending a court hearing. If the offender later violates the No Contact Order, then the offender can be re-arrested and held in the Detention Center until seen by a Judge. 4. Assuming the offender pleads Not Guilty and wants a trial, then the State has the burden of proving the offender guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (another constitutional standard). This can only be accomplished if the arresting officer has gathered sufficient credible evidence to present to the Judge or Jury to convict the offender. Many times the outcome is doubtful if the victim refuses to cooperate or testify truthfully at trial. This is the reason why many charges are withdrawn or dropped after being filed. If there is a conviction, then the offender has the right to appeal to a higher court. So what steps can the victim take to protect herself or himself after the incident has taken place, and what are the different types of court orders that may be sought or issued? There are at least three (3) kinds of court orders that a person may seek to protect herself or himself from people posing potential threats to them. These are Orders of Protection, Restraining Orders, and No Contact Orders. Many people are familiar with the term “Restraining Order", but may not have heard of the others. Let me explain briefly what each order is, how it can be obtained, and how it can be enforced. ORDERS OF PROTECTION: A. Orders issued by the Circuit Court to protect victims in Domestic Violence situations. (The Sheriff's Office received and processed 237 Orders of Protection in 2007) B. To be eligible, the victim must have been in a “Domestic Type Relationship" with the offender, within the definition of the law. The definition includes married people, people related within the 4th degree of consanguinity, people who have lived together, had a child together, or have been in a dating relationship. Parents or advocates may also obtain, or assist in obtaining, Orders of Protection on behalf of others in some circumstances. C. Application/Petition forms to obtain Orders of Protection are available at the Circuit Clerk's Office. The Clerk may assist applicants in filling out the forms. D. There are no costs associated with this order, no filing fees, no service fees. E. The completed application form is presented to a Circuit Judge for review. F. The victim/applicant may have to answer questions from the Judge before he decides whether or not to issue the order. There must be sufficient grounds to issue the order. G. If the application is approved, the Circuit Judge will issue an Ex Parte (Temporary) Order of Protection. This Order will be delivered to the Sheriff's Office to be served on the offender. The Order has no validity and cannot be enforced until and unless the offender has been served with the Order. H. When the offender is served, the Order will specify a court hearing date and time. The offender may appear to challenge the Order at that time. I. At the time of the hearing, the Judge may make the order permanent (up to 10 years), may modify the provisions of the order, or may drop or terminate the temporary order. J. The order may award temporary custody of children or dependents to the applicant/victim, may order spousal support, may award temporary possession of a residence or personal property, and may prevent the offender from having any contact with the victim, the victim's children, family, or etc. K. Any person who violates any provision of the Order of Protection has committed a crime, specifically a Class A Misdemeanor, the punishment for which is up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to one (1) year in jail. The Judge issuing the Order can also punish for Contempt of Court. L. Officers may make an arrest without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe the Order of Protection has been violated or broken by the offender. M. Mutual (two-way) Orders of Protection are not permitted, however the parties involved may obtain separate Order of Protection against one another if grounds exist to convince a Judge to grant them. Victims of Domestic Violence are encouraged to apply for Orders of Protection, because it is a crime to violate them. This gives law enforcement must greater authority to enforce the provisions of these orders and results in a new charge being filed. The same cannot be said for violating other kinds of orders. RESTRAINING ORDERS: A. These are civil court orders generally issued in divorce cases. B. There are filing fees and service fees involved, and the services of attorney are generally required to obtain a Restraining Order. C. A person who defies the provisions of a Restraining Order has not committed a criminal offense. The remedy for violating a Restraining Order is to petition the court to hold the offender/violator in Contempt of Court, the punishment for which is generally a small civil fine. Restraining Orders are generally ineffective in Domestic Violence cases because they have no real teeth to them. NO CONTACT ORDERS: A. Any person taken into custody for a criminal offense resulting from a Domestic Violence incident will generally be issued a standing No Contact Order at the time of his or her release from custody. This order is issued as a condition of bail or condition of release. B. The order remains in effect until lifted or terminated by a Judge, but can generally be valid for no more than two (2) years. C. A person who violates a No Contact Order has not committed a crime, rather he or she has violated the conditions of bail or release and can be taken back into custody by the officer until appearing in person before a Judge. The bail is basically revoked. The great thing about No Contact Orders is that if somebody is taken into custody for violating one of them, he or she is not eligible for release from the Detention Center until appearing before a Judge or until a Judge orders the release. The Sheriff's Office has pre-printed information available on how to obtain Orders of Protection, how to obtain the services of a victim's advocate, and how to obtain the services of a shelter, such as Serenity in Mountain Home. Any deputy will be glad to provide these materials or try to answer any questions about the Sheriff's Office procedures in responding to and investigating incidents of Domestic Violence. Until next time, I send you best regards, Captain Jeff Lewis â€“ Baxter County Sheriff's Office **Don't forget to sign up for email-alerts for Sex Offender Registry and Most Wanted Information, Press Releases, and Messages from the Sheriff. Sign up at: www.baxtercountysheriff.com/enews_signup.php **As an un-related side note, the Sheriff's Office will be adding some additional Reserve (Volunteer) Deputies and will have a Reserve class in the Spring, 2008. Check out the employment opportunities page of this web site for complete details!
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