SAVE Kicks Off Campaign to End Mandatory Arrest Laws in DV Cases

I recently posted a piece on the study done by Harvard researcher Radha Iyengar into the unintended effects of mandatory arrest laws in domestic violence cases.  She found that states with mandatory arrest laws are actually accomplishing the opposite of what domestic violence policies intend.

The study found that mandatory arrest laws result in fewer reports of DV and therefore more actual DV incidents.  That’s because people who know for certain that their partner will go to jail if he/she reports abusive behavior tend to refrain from calling the police.

Iyengar’s report claims that mandatory arrest laws resulted in about 600 additional deaths across the United States per year.

The information about that report came to us from the Maryland non-profit, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE).  Now they’ve kicked off their nationwide campaign to try to get states to repeal mandatory arrest laws. Here is the text of the press release they sent out:

The Cost of Mandatory Arrest: 600 Lives a Year


WASHINGTON / November 8, 2010 – Domestic violence victims who live in a state that mandates arrest for domestic violence face an unintended, yet deadly side effect of such policies. Each year, over 600 persons die as a result of mandatory arrest laws, according to a report released today:

The report, “Arrest Policies for Domestic Violence,’ summarizes the research on the impact of mandatory arrest laws, and concludes such policies have had the opposite of the desired effect. The report is issued by Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), a non-profit organization that advocates evidence-based solutions to domestic violence.

The estimated 600 lives lost each year is based on a national study by Harvard University that found mandatory arrest policies increase subsequent homicide rates by 57%. The Harvard study was highlighted in a New York Times op-ed column (“The Protection Battered Spouses Don”t Need’ 8/7/2007).

“For years, persons have known get-tough mandatory arrest policies weren”t working,’ explains SAVE director Claudia Cornell, PhD. “Now, victims of domestic violence need to send a powerful message to lawmakers: ‘Remove mandatory arrest policies.”‘

According to Harvard researcher Radha Iyengar, mandatory arrest has back-fired because such policies discourage victims from calling for help. “Victims want protection, but they do not always want to see their partners behind bars,’ she notes in her NYT column.

The 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act shifted from a mandatory to a “pro-arrest’ stance. But five years later, not a single mandatory arrest state has removed such policies.

Another harmful effect of mandatory arrest is that persons are often arrested based on scant evidence of abuse, giving rise to allegations of false arrest. Only 30% of persons arrested for domestic violence are convicted of any crime.

A listing of the states with mandatory arrest policies can be seen here:

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is a victim-advocacy organization dedicated to stopping partner abuse:

SAVE is conducting its campaign around the attempt to reauthorize VAWA.  Although that federal law eschews mandatory arrest, many state laws do not.  Therefore, SAVE is trying to enlist as many organizations as possible at the state level that seek to repeal mandatory arrest laws and tear down other barriers between fathers and their children.

Mandatory arrest laws in cases of alleged domestic violence have a number of problems.  One is that, given an allegation and often nothing more, police must arrest someone.  That often leads to a violation of that most basic of due process requirements – probable cause to arrest.

If mere allegations can support arrest, then what were the framers of the Constitution thinking of when they inserted the words ‘probable cause’ into the Fourth Amendment?  If mere allegations are sufficient to arrest someone, then anyone can get anyone else arrested at any time for any or no reason.

That’s the whole point of the concept of probable cause – there must be some objective, verifiable evidence that the person committed an act of criminal wrongdoing before he/she can be arrested.  Otherwise the state has the type of unlimited power over individual liberty that the Bill of Rights was specifically ratified to avoid.

Now we learn that mandatory arrest laws tend to contradict the very policies they were enacted to promote.  That should be enough to get them repealed in every state.  That’s SAVE’s goal, and it’s a necessary one if we’re ever going to start moving toward sensible policies on domestic violence.  By “sensible policies,” I mean those that actually reduce the incidence and severity of domestic violence.

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