Category Archives: domestic violence law

Firearms and Domestic Violence: A Deadly Combination

From the National Center on Protection Orders Full Faith and Credit Newsletter, March 23, 2017

Firearms and Domestic Violence: A Deadly Combination

Currently, there is a significant amount of discussion in the United States surrounding gun violence. Firearms and domestic violence are a lethal mix. Looking at homicides that occurred in 2011, a recent study showed that nearly two-thirds of women killed with guns were killed by their intimate partners. (Citation: Violence Policy Center, When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2011 Homicide Data 6, (September 2013) at http://www.vpc.org/studies/wmmw2013.pdf . It is clear from this data that removing guns from domestic abusers saves lives.

It is important for all disciplines to understand the federal firearm laws and their relationship to any state laws. The complexity of firearm legislation and case law make it difficult and confusing to determine what laws apply and to whom. Federal law prohibits abusers who have been convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence and persons subject to certain protection orders from purchasing or possessing guns and ammunition. Some states have enacted legislation that mirrors the federal firearm prohibitions. Other jurisdictions have adopted broader laws to address issues that the federal law does not address such as including dating relationships and stalking crimes. To assist practitioners, NCPOFFC has compiled a matrix of domestic violence-related firearm prohibitions.

All disciplines that deal with intimate partner violence have a unique responsibility to address the presence and use of weapons to ensure survivor safety. NCPOFFC has created firearms checklists so practitioners can be better prepared to deal with weapons possession. Please click the following link to access the appropriate firearms checklist:

Law enforcement checklist:
This checklist for law enforcement provides information on two classes of persons prohibited under the domestic violence related provisions of the federal Gun Control Act. Those subject to a protection order (18 USC 922 (g)(8)) and those convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV) (18 USC 922 (g)(9)) are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms. This document also provides tips on seizure and safe return of firearms as well as responding to information requests and incidents of officer-involved domestic violence. It is important for all disciplines to understand the federal firearm laws and their relationship to any state laws

Judges’ checklist:
This checklist for judges provides key information on the federal Gun Control Act provisions prohibiting purchase or possession of firearms by those subject to a protection order (18 USC 922 (g)(8)) or those convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV) (18 USC 922 (g)(9)). Detailed information on who is prohibited, as well as surrender, transfer, and return of firearms, and requirements of judicial notification are provided.

Advocates’ checklist:
This checklist provides information for advocates facilitating a discussion with survivors about firearms. It also provides key information on the federal Gun Control Act provisions prohibiting the purchase or possession of firearms by those subject to a protection order (18 USC 922 (g)(8)) or those convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV) (18 USC 922 (g)(9)).

Prosecutors’ checklist:
This checklist for prosecutors provides key information on the federal Gun Control Act prohibiting those subject to a protection order (18 USC 922 (g)(8)) or those convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV) (18 USC 922 (g)(9)) from possessing a firearm or ammunition. This tool provides tips from charging decisions to documenting the conviction, as well as facilitating a community response to aid in convicting dangerous abusers.

NCPOFFC staff is available to assist practitioners in understanding both federal and state domestic violence related firearm prohibitions. Please contact NCPOFFC at 800-903-0111 prompt 2, or visit the website to access matrices of state firearm laws, case law, promising practices, and to request technical assistance or training on this issue.

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States that require domestic abusers to surrender their guns

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August 13, 2016 · 7:26 am

Judicial shortcomings for domestic violence victims

The number of domestic violence-related deaths in Pima County increased by 50 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Ed Mercurio-Sakwa, the CEO of the local Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse, says that his organization’s hotline typically receives calls from about 5,500 individuals in Tucson each year.

Last year 5,900 called Emerge’s hotline, and Mercurio-Sakwa predicts that “this year we’re on pace for about 7,300 different calls,” an increase of more than 30 percent of the typical hotline traffic. “And the scary part of that is that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Mercurio-Sakwa says.

“A lot of research shows that only about one in 10 incidents get reported,” Mercurio-Sakwa says, “The Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department alone get almost 13,000 calls each year to 911 for domestic violence and again it’s probably about one-tenth of what’s really going on.”

Emerge! works with the Pima County Attorney’s office to provide victims with support and emergency resources through the Domestic Violence Court, established in 2007, but Mercurio-Sakwa admits that the Pima County legal system cannot provide justice for all victims.

One issue for victims, about 85 percent of whom are women, “is that the vast majority of domestic violence is emotional abuse, verbal abuse and economic abuse, which are not illegal, generally speaking,” Mercurio-Sakwa says.

The Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP), an organization out of Washington, D.C., that works to advance legal protections for victims and provide assistance during appeals processes nationwide, recognizes the shortcomings of protections against nonphysical forms of abuse.

“Even though there has been extensive training efforts to educate judges on the broader spectrum of behavior that encompasses domestic violence, judges rarely recognize or grant protection for controlling behavior that is the core of domestic violence,” says Sasha Drobnick, the legal director of DV LEAP.
These behaviors can include threats, intimidation, degradation, social isolation and financial manipulation, all with the goal of total control over the victim.

However, just because an abuser has not resorted to physical violence yet does not mean it won’t happen in the future.

“Somebody who is looking to control someone else will use whatever tactic necessary to gain that control,” Mercurio-Sakwa says, “That means that they will keep raising the level of abuse until they don’t have to anymore. So, abusers who feel like they can differentiate themselves from men who hit their wives are wrong. The truth is you’re not physical because you haven’t had to be, not because you wouldn’t be willing to.”

One of the overarching goals for DV LEAP is to develop “broader and more accurate definitions of domestic violence with domestic violence statutes that capture and provide protection against coercive control,” Drobnick says.

Even victims who suffer prosecutable forms of abuse face judicial shortcomings, an example of which is order of protection enforcement.

One option for victims of illegal abuse is an order of protection, which bars the perpetrator from any contact with the victim in person or any other way for one year.

Violations of orders of protection in Arizona are supposed to result in immediate arrest, possible jail time and fines.

Despite the order’s name, Mercurio-Sakwa says “it may just serve to piss (the abuser) off more, and at the end of the day it’s a piece of paper.”

One victim, who was granted her fourth order of protection against her husband and father of her children on March 4 in the Pima County Superior Court, asked presiding Judge Geoffrey Ferlan what she could do to keep her abuser from continuously violating the order of protection.

“Is there anything else I can do if I’ve already told the police and he’s still violating it?” she asked, sitting alone in front of the judge.

The victim said she reported all of the violations to the Tucson Police Department, but no actions were taken.

Ferlan could only respond with, “Legally, I can’t give you advice.”

The abuser, who previously served prison time for domestic violence, did not show up to a hearing that he requested to dispute the order of protection.
Court records describe incidents of stalking, choking, pushing and threatening the victim and their two children under the age of 10.

In one report, the victim wrote, “(the abuser) sent me a picture of a gun to his head saying he was going to kill myself, the kids, then himself.”

At the end of the brief hearing, after Ferlan recommended that the victim “continue to report the violations to the police and use resources like Emerge! to keep yourself safe,” she was escorted to her car by two court officers.

Unlike the legal system, which uniformly issues orders of protection and prosecutes domestic abusers, Emerge! focuses on individualized safety response plans.

“We feel like every situation is totally unique, and requires a customized response plan that may or may not involve the court,” Mercurio-Sakwa says.

Mercurio-Sakwa’s experience with victims taught him that not all victims want to prosecute or leave their abusers, whether for financial or familial reasons, and those that do want legal justice can face threats and intimidation in the process.

“Sometimes there is tremendous fear. The abuser will say, ‘I’m going to get out, they might arrest me but I’ll be out in a day or so,’” he says. “That’s real. That is a real safety risk for victims.”

Although victims can contact law enforcement if they feel threatened, a survey conducted by The National Domestic Violence Hotline in 2015 found that only one in five women nationwide who contacted the police about their abuse felt safer.

Intimidation outside of court can cause victims to recant or drop charges for their own safety.

One appeals case that DV LEAP is working on involves a domestic violence survivor who was denied a protective order because she previously dropped criminal charges against her abuser because of fear.

Recanting a statement or dropping charges can make a victim look unreliable, and make pressing subsequent charges or seeking protection more difficult.

“These behaviors are common among survivors and have many possible explanations, but the court chose to find that the abuse didn’t occur,” Drobnick says.

Although police departments nationwide are trained to protect victims from their abusers, in 2015 two-thirds of women suffering from domestic violence “were afraid the police would not believe them or do nothing,” according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The Tucson Police Department did not respond to repeated requests for an interview about its experience with domestic violence incidents.

Although there were about 4,000 domestic violence-related deaths nationwide in 2015, the rate of domestic violence deaths in Pima County was 44 percent higher than the national rate.

Mercurio-Sakwa, a man working in a position traditionally occupied by women, feels that the next step in domestic violence prevention is “shifting the community conversation to the unhealthy aspects of masculinity.”

“We have for so long seen this as a women’s issue. It was left on their shoulders to somehow take care of it,” he says. “I find it really important that men hold each other accountable.”

Mercurio-Sakwa’s goals for the organization, while under his guidance, are to expand on prevention programs directed at men.

Although Emerge! is a positive place for victims to seek out the help they need, Mercurio-Sakwa was reluctant to admit, “unfortunately, we will never go out of business.”

Source

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Advocating for Domestic Violence Victims Who Have Been Arrested for Domestic Violence.

See complete Women’s Justice Center article.

Introduction
One of the effects of stricter laws and policies directing police to treat domestic violence as serious violent crime has been skyrocketing arrest rates of women for domestic violence. In some police departments the percentage of domestic violence arrests of females has shot up to 30 to 40 percent of the arrests. What’s most revealing about this massive shift toward arresting more females is the fact that conviction rates for males vs. females remains basically unchanged. Between 90 and 95 percent of domestic violence convictions continue to be convictions of males. Or looking at it from another angle, a study in San Diego found that in cases in which females were arrested for domestic violence, only 6% of those cases resulted in prosecution.

What these and many other studies strongly suggest is that the evidence in most female arrests is so flimsy or non-existent that prosecutors can’t justify filing charges, or even if the prosecutor does file, the evidence doesn’t stand up in court and the case is quickly dismissed. Clearly, in a significant number of these cases, the officers are mistakenly arresting the victim of domestic violence and not the perpetrator. This is also the conclusion that we and many other victim advocates around the country have come to in dealing with these cases on a day by day basis. All too often, when women are arrested for domestic violence you’re dealing with a victim who has been mistakenly designated as a perpetrator.

Women’s advocates around the country feel the skyrocketing arrests of females for domestic violence stems from a combination of causes. In some cases outright officer hostility against women, or officer resentment of having to treat domestic violence as serious crime, motivates the arrest. In other cases officers are failing to properly determine the dominant aggressor. In a common variation of this problem, the officer fails to correctly identify defensive wounds and as a result they are arresting women who defend themselves, especially those women who defend themselves successfully. And in another whole set of cases, there are indications that domestic violence perpetrators themselves have gotten increasingly sophisticated at turning the law on women by doing such things as calling 911 themselves or by purposely injuring themselves before police arrive.

To be sure, there are cases in which the arrest of a female for domestic violence is a legitimate arrest. But the observations of victim advocates and studies around the country indicate that in a high proportion of female arrests, it is a domestic violence victim who has been mistakenly arrested. These victims need very special care and advocacy from you in order to keep them safe and to undo the damage that’s done by a bad arrest.

See complete Women’s Justice Center article.

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More than 1,600 Women Murdered by Men in One Year, New Study Finds

Study ranks the states on the rate of women murdered by men in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October

Washington, DC — More than 1,600 women were murdered by men in 2013 and the most common weapon used was a gun, according to the new Violence Policy Center (VPC) study When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2013 Homicide Data.

This annual VPC report is being released in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. This year’s study applies to 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

The study also ranks the states on the rate of women murdered by men. In 2013, South Carolina had the highest rate, followed by Alaska, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Nevada. (A list of the 10 states with the highest rates of women murdered by men follows below.)

The study covers homicides involving one female murder victim and one male offender, and uses data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Supplementary Homicide Report.

Nationwide, 1,615 females were murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2013, at a rate of 1.09 per 100,000. The study found that nationwide, 94 percent of women killed by men were murdered by someone they knew. Of the victims who knew their offenders, 62 percent were wives or other intimate acquaintances of their killers.

The study also found that black women are disproportionately impacted by fatal domestic violence. In 2013, black females were murdered by men at a rate of 2.36 per 100,000, two and a half times higher than the rate of 0.95 per 100,000 for white women murdered by men.

Nationwide in 2013, out of the 1,615 female homicide victims, 1,086 were white, 453 were black, 36 were Asian or Pacific Islander, 21 were American Indian or Alaskan Native, and in 19 cases the race of the victim was not identified.

“Women are dying every day as a result of domestic violence, and our state and federal laws are insufficient in the face of this crisis,” states VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “State and federal policymakers should take immediate action to help protect women from abusers and prevent future tragedies. This should include ensuring that men with a history of domestic abuse do not have access to guns.”

“When men murder women, the most common weapon used is a gun,” says Julia Wyman, executive director of States United to Prevent Gun Violence. “Closing gaps in state and federal gun laws will save women’s lives.”

The Violence Policy Center has published When Men Murder Women annually for 18 years. During that period, nationwide the rate of women murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents has dropped 31 percent — from 1.57 per 100,000 in 1996 to 1.09 per 100,000 in 2013.

Below is the complete list of the 10 states with the highest rate of females murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2013:

study (Click to enlarge)

For each of the top 10 states, the study offers a detailed summary including: the number of victims by age group and race; the most common weapons used; the victim to offender relationships; and the circumstances of the homicides.

For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 94 percent of female victims nationwide were murdered by a male they knew. Of the victims who knew their offenders, 62 percent were wives, common-law wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends of the offenders.

Firearms — especially handguns — were the weapons most commonly used by males to murder females in 2013. Nationwide, for homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 53 percent of female victims were shot and killed with a gun. Of the homicides committed with guns, 69 percent were killed with handguns.

The Complete Study (PDF)

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Women Lawmakers Revive Gun-Control Effort By Making It About Domestic Violence

Gun control’s weary warriors have been searching for a way to appeal to Republicans and give the issue a pulse in Congress. A couple of Midwestern women Democrats may have found a way to do it, by tying it to domestic violence.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell are pressing legislation to take guns out of the hands of men who abuse women. On Wednesday, Dingell introduced a bill along with a Republican, Robert Dold of Illinois, mirroring legislation Klobuchar reintroduced earlier this year in targeting those convicted of stalking and abusive dating partners.

For both women, the issue is personal. As a county prosecutor, Klobuchar helped establish some of the first domestic violence service centers in the nation before coming to Congress. Dingell grew up in a household where domestic violence and guns were a constant worry.

“I understand what a gun in the wrong hands can do and the fear and the anxiety that you live with for a lifetime,” Dingell said in an interview. Dingell’s husband, former Representative John Dingell, is a gun owner who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association. “No one should assume where I am on guns,” she said. “This is a very narrow bill.”

Efforts to revive gun control in Congress have been virtually non existent for the past two year. In 2013, Republicans and a handful of Democrats refused to support even modest changes to firearms background check laws in the wake of school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, prompting activists to shift their focus to the state level. It’s there, in places like Illinois and South Carolina, that lawmakers have agreed to stiffen penalties and bar those convicted of domestic violence from possessing guns.

Now proponents are trying to recreate that success in Washington by focusing on specific categories of individuals who are at elevated risk of becoming violent. The approach also broadens the traditional gun coalition to women’s groups that target domestic violence, like MomsRising and National Network to End Domestic Violence.

“I have not given up hope by any means on these more pragmatic focused approaches,” said Klobuchar, who noted that “you have a state as red as South Carolina doing something on gun violence related to domestic violence.”

Current law bars people convicted of domestic abuse from possessing firearms. At an event to unveil the Dingell-Dold bill on Wednesday, state-level bills were spotlighted that accomplish the same objectives. As of this month, bills addressing domestic abuse and gun violence have been passed or introduced in 23 legislatures, including Oregon, Alabama, and Louisiana.

Advocates for toughening U.S. gun laws say the lesson from the 2013 failure of legislation to expand background checks to Internet sales and gun shows is that comprehensive gun legislation is impossible in the current Congress.

What is possible, they believe, is advancing legislation to focus on specific categories of individuals, including domestic abusers, those on the terrorism watch list and individuals with a mental health condition that poses a threat to the safety of others.

“This is a pretty modest deal on something that’s already publicly accepted as what we can do to safeguard our daughters, our sisters,” Dold said in an interview.

Even so, Klobuchar has yet to attract a Republican co-sponsor for her bill, and the Republican champion of the 2013 effort, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, said he doesn’t know much about it.

The National Rifle Association, which has squashed major gun legislation for two decades, opposes both bills. According to an NRA fact sheet, it will “not stand” for taking away a “fundamental civil right for a misdemeanor conviction.” The bill, the NRA argues, “cynically manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearms prohibitions.”

The domestic violence issue has a powerful correlation to firearms possession, according to a study by the Center for American Progress in Washington. From 2001 to 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the U.S. by an intimate partner using a gun—more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entire Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Of all women murdered by intimate partners during this period, 55 percent were killed with guns, and women in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than are women in other high-income countries. Seventy-six percent of women killed with a gun had been stalked in the previous year, Dingell said Wednesday.

After the shootings in Newtown in 2012, Dingell began to share her personal story. “I found my voice a few years ago,” she said Wednesday.

In January, she penned a letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder asking him to veto a bill allowing concealed-weapons permits to be issued to individuals with a history of violence. “I will not forget the nights of shouting. The fear. The dread that my brother, my sisters and my parents would die,” Dingell wrote. “I will not forget locking ourselves in closets or hiding places hoping we wouldn’t be found. Calling for help, but finding no one willing to help.”

“I had a father that I’m sure loved me but could snap like that,” Dingell said Wednesday. “When a gun was near you didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Dingell’s younger sister suffered from years of anxiety and eventually committed suicide. “I don’t think she ever recovered,” Dingell said Wednesday. “She was always afraid for her life and had anxiety the rest of her life.”

In addition to the recent law in South Carolina, supporters say they are optimistic that the legislation can gain traction because Congress has in the past acknowledged the nexus between guns and domestic violence. In 1994 and 1997, Congress acted to take guns away from domestic abusers and those under restraining orders. Yet Klobuchar, Dingell are Dold are arguing that serious loopholes remain.

“I don’t look at this as a gun bill,” said Dingell. “I look at this as a domestic violence bill.”

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Elonis Ruling by U.S. Supreme Court Fails Victims

DENVER, CO–Yesterday, in a concerning turn of events, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Anthony Douglas Elonis in a case that will have a profound impact on victims and survivors of online abuse and cyberstalking. Using a pseudonym, Elonis posted self-styled rap lyrics threatening his ex-wife, his co-workers, law enforcement agents and a kindergarten class. He claimed he was merely exercising his First Amendment rights and did not intend to follow through with his threats.

Elonis was convicted of cyberstalking and appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In his original trial, the court told the jury Elonis should be held guilty if a reasonable person would have known such actions would be interpreted as a threat. He claimed that standard was too low, and the prosecutor should have to prove he actually intended his statements to be a ‘true threat’.

In a 7-2 ruling that is a blow to victims, advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement around the country, the Supreme Court sided with Elonis. However, the ruling did not define the threshold required for conviction, leaving the lower courts to thresh out the issue. The fall-out has yet to be seen, but this ruling has the potential to jeopardize stalking laws nationwide.

“Once again our system has shown that it does not understand nor recognize how creative and manipulative abusers can be, nor has it shown that victims can trust our system to provide full protections. Most everyone else held the stalker accountable for his harmful actions, but in this instance the courts failed the victim,” says Ruth Glenn, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Stalking is a serious crime that can have profound physical, psychological and financial impacts on victims. It is also a key indicator of lethality. A ten-city study of intimate partner homicide found that 76% of women killed by intimate partners and 85% of women who survived such murder attempts were stalked by their murders. As a society, we must have a zero-tolerance policy toward all forms of abuse.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) has worked since 1978 to make every home a safe home. The NCADV works to raise awareness about domestic violence; to educate and create programming and technical assistance, to assist the public in addressing the issue, and to support those impacted by domestic violence. Visit us at www.ncadv.org.

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