VIII. Domestic Violence Legislation

The most obvious indicator of the way a particular state legislates domestic violence offenses can be seen in whether it categorizes the offense as a misdemeanor or a felony. At the time this research paper was written, 11 states have yet to adopt laws explicitly dealing with domestic violence. Within the other 39 states, the first domestic violence offense can be treated as a felony in 9 states; the second domestic violence offense is treated as a felony in 7 states; and in 18 states, the third domestic violence offense is a felony. In addition, 13 states have enhanced penalties for violations of domestic violence law committed in the presence of a minor, and 3 states have instituted enhanced penalties for the assault of a pregnant woman (N. Miller, 2004).

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Others point to the more hidden consequences that mandatory arrests pose in regard to issues of race and class. As previously discussed, dual arrest rates surged as a result of mandatory arrest policies. For example, the rates of female arrests for domestic violence rose from 12.9% to 21% in the state of Maryland; from 6% to 16.5% in a California study; and shockingly, in the city of Sacramento alone, there was a 91% increase in women arrested, and a 7% decrease in men arrested (Chesney-Lind, 2002). Concurrently, African American females were arrested at almost 3 times the rate of Caucasian women in 1998 (Chesney-Lind, 2002).


The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment (MDVE) was conducted to determine whether arresting offenders for domestic violence significantly reduced subsequent arrests (Sherman & Berk, 1984). Many in the legislative community and elsewhere interpreted the MDVE results, which suggested that mandatory arrest could reduce future arrests, as a strong support for mandatory arrest laws for the law enforcement response to domestic violence. In fact, most states soon passed pro/mandatory arrest statutes, and law enforcement agencies implemented pro/mandatory arrest policies for cases of domestic violence. It did not take long, however, for the practice community to realize that there were going to be several unintended consequences of mandatory arrest policies. For example, as a result of mandatory arrest policies, female arrests for domestic violence have increased dramatically because often, officers who respond to domestic violence calls are unsure which partner is the primary aggressor. If the perpetrator has wounds as well as the victim, the officer is often unable to conclusively identify whose wounds are offensive and whose are defensive. Having not witnessed the altercation, the responding officer has no choice but to arrest both parties (Parmley, 2004). Some feel that as a result of the increased risk for arrest, victims of domestic violence may be less likely to contact the police, thus risking their safety and further enabling the abuser.

Domestic violence does not depend on homosexuality and occurs in male and female same-sex relations as frequently as in opposite-sex relations.
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Another demographic where domestic violence has grown is among same sex couples including man-man relationships, woman-woman relationships, and relative relationships. There is an increase in domestic violence between relatives like sisters, brothers, and parents and children. Police have had to respond to a great increase in domestic violence cases involving family members.

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Tsai (2000) also evaluated the domestic violence court of Dade County, Florida. The Dade County court model is based on therapeutic jurisprudence, which has its roots in mental health cases but has also come to the attention of experts as an appropriate response for domestic violence cases. The idea behind therapeutic jurisprudence is to enhance the psychological well-being of those who come into contact with the legal system (Winick, 1997). The Dade County domestic violence court prides itself on expanding its ideas and roles beyond that of the traditional legal system in order to reinforce victim empowerment, increase victim safety, and provide treatment alternatives to traditional penalties for offenders.