Guest opinion: Clarifying Colorado domestic violence laws
In the early 1990s, I was trained by a nationally recognized victims rights group on the dynamics of domestic violence laws, with the requirement that I trained as many law enforcement officers in the judicial district as possible. I continued to provide that training at the Law Enforcement Academy for over 12 years, so I feel confident in addressing this topic, which is highlighted by Domestic Violence Awareness Month being in October.
Under Colorado law, “domestic violence” means “an act or threatened act of violence upon a person with whom the actor/suspect/defendant is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.” “Domestic violence” also includes any other crime against a person or against property, including an animal, or any municipal ordinance violation against a person or against property, including an animal, when used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.
“Intimate relationship” means a relationship between spouses, former spouses, past or present unmarried couples or people who are both the parents of the same child regardless of whether the people have been married or have lived together at any time.” As you can see, it does not require physical contact or “touching” as a minimum standard to make a mandatory arrest.
The ultimate responsibility for those who work in the judicial system is to ensure that offenders are held responsible and victims are provided with what they need. They have rights, and primary among them is to feel safe and make sure that those who commit crimes against them are held accountable.
What we do know is that when a lawful arrest is made, the accountability process for the victim begins. Without that, the victim is left in a potentially unsafe or unsettled state. Anyone who has ever been a victim of a crime, be it a property crime or personal crime, knows that when an arrest is made, they begin to feel whole again.
Many years ago when states were researching domestic violence crimes, they discovered that when an arrest was made, the violence stopped in 50 percent of the cases and victims felt safe. As a result, mandatory arrest laws were enacted “requiring” law enforcement to arrest when “probable cause” of a domestic violence crime occurred, or if the offender was not present, to obtain an arrest warrant based on that same “probable cause.” This is mandatory.
Domestic violence cases are very complex and are not as simple as two guys pushing each other over a game of pool in the local bar. Instead, they involve years of manipulation, coercion, destruction of self-esteem, isolation, threats and physical violence. These cases require special consideration and training to be able to successfully prosecute the offenders and provide for the victims.
Because we know that one of the dynamics of domestic violence cases is that an extremely high percentage of victims recant their story because of fear and intimidation, getting a successful prosecution in these circumstances is very difficult for the district attorney, yet the law still mandates that an arrest be made. This is so the victim is provided due rights and protections under the law and the offender can enter into the process of accountability, including mandatory protection orders, counseling, etc.
If on the other hand, the district attorney fails to recognize or believe these dynamics and the importance of domestic violence laws and providing for the safety of victims, but would rather be concerned with the win percentage in court, a large majority of domestic violence cases will go unresolved and the victims will suffer the greatest fear of all; not being able to reach out to anyone in the criminal justice system for help. That results in hopelessness for the victim and empowering the offender.
All of us who work in the criminal justice system as well as the public we serve need to understand that domestic violence is a crime that requires mandatory arrest. Even though these cases are difficult to prosecute, the district attorney must make every attempt to follow through with obtaining convictions so that the offenders are held accountable for their crimes against their loved ones and the victims can be provided the services they are allowed by law to ensure their safety.
Lou Vallario is the Garfield County sheriff. He supports Republican Jefferson Cheney in the race for district attorney. Cheney is running against incumbent Democrat Sherry Caloia and independent Chip McCrory.
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