Domestic violence law needs to be examined

Published 3:13 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dear Editor,

In response to your article concerning high profile domestic violence cases, I would like to offer the following:

I agree that domestic violence is a real and troubling issue in America and it must be dealt with. I agree that it is not OK to beat a spouse or child and we must train our children to respect others and to deal with strife in a civilized and orderly manner. But I would like to take a look at Alabama’s current “domestic violence” law and some of the consequences of it.

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Alabama Code Title 13A, Chapter 6, Article 7 outlines the rules surrounding “domestic violence.” It is not just a spouse or child that falls under the “domestic violence” law. According to the code, the “victim” can be a current or former spouse, parent, child, any person with whom the defendant has a child in common, a present or former household member or a person who has or had a dating or engagement relationship with the defendant. That’s a lot of folks. Also under the code, law enforcement is able to make an arrest without a warrant and is able to enter a home or establishment without a warrant. Law enforcement decides who is charged, with little or no investigation, based on the statements of the parties involved. Many times this is a he said/she said situation and law enforcement chooses who goes to jail.

Not all domestic disputes are domestic violence. Unfortunately, however, the attitude of law enforcement is that if they respond to a 911 domestic call, someone is going to jail. I do not know the policy of our local police and sheriff departments, but in many cities the policy is that an arrest is made or a detailed report is filed explaining why an arrest wasn’t made. This, I’m sure, is to protect the agency in the event a victim is actually hurt at some point after making a 911 call. I have personal knowledge of a “domestic violence” case where the “victim” called 911 and reported physical abuse because she was mad that her spouse questioned her about money missing from their bank account. There was no evidence of physical abuse. The arresting officer told the “abuser,” “Someone is going to jail and tonight it’s you.” The case was dismissed, but the defendant spent the night in jail, paid an attorney and court costs and he now has an arrest record of “domestic violence.” It turns out that she took the money to buy drugs. There are also documented cases of spouses involved in divorce proceedings reporting domestic violence in an effort to obtain favor in their divorce case.

If convicted of domestic violence, rightfully or wrongfully, a person could lose child custody and even visitation rights. They will lose their right to possess firearms. They could lose their job and they will never be able to serve in the military. Even in the case I mentioned where the charge was dismissed, the arrest record has damaged this man’s job prospects. Domestic violence laws are too broad and they give too much authority to law enforcement.

In your article, Chief Ingram said that domestic violence might be on the rise in our area but he wasn’t sure why. I would like to suggest that domestic violence itself might not be on the rise, but there are more cases based on the expanse of individuals included in the code, which mandates a charge of domestic violence. That coupled with the fact that some domestic disputes are categorized as domestic violence by law enforcement, would account for an increase in domestic violence cases.

Finally, I would like to suggest that domestic violence is big business. One website offers the eight hour court ordered DV class online for $195. The 52-hour class is a mere $995. This company states that they offer education only and do not substitute for psychological or medical counseling. Additionally, many shelters are federally funded and their funds are based on the number of domestic violence cases reported in the area. Follow the money. People who file false domestic violence reports ought to be charged with filing a false report but they aren’t. No elected official is going to file charges against and prosecute someone who has claimed to be the victim of domestic abuse. That would not be the politically correct thing to do.

Again, I agree that domestic abusers should be dealt with harshly. Victims of domestic abuse need assistance and children need to be educated that domestic violence is not OK. I also agree that laws governing domestic violence need to be narrowed and law enforcement officers need to be well trained in handling domestic issues. Arbitrary arrests do a lifetime of harm to innocent men and women wrongfully accused of “domestic violence.” And folks found to be filing false reports of domestic abuse should be charged and punished for filing false reports to law enforcement.

Thank you

Scott Shirley