Mandatory Arrest Laws in Domestic Violence Cases

person in handcuffs

When household fights get heated, there is a chance that a disagreement will cross the line into domestic violence. If the police are called in response to a domestic disturbance, someone will go to jail. Connecticut’s mandatory arrest laws mean it is up to the police to determine who the dominant aggressor was based on evidence immediately available, but sometimes that can lead to the wrong person being arrested.

Connecticut Gets Rid of Dual Arrest Policy

Until 2019, any time you called the police because of domestic violence at home, there was a chance you were going to jail too. That’s because Connecticut was one of several states with mandatory dual arrest laws. Here’s what that looked like:

Devin and Daryll’s argument turned physical. Devin threw a phone at Daryll and Daryll responded by punching Devin. Devin called the police. The officer who responded talked to Daryll and Devin separately. Each said the other had assaulted them. Because there was probable cause to believe each person had committed assault against a family member, the officer was required to arrest both Devin and Daryll. Each would likely face family violence charges for assault.

The law did allow victims of domestic violence to claim self defense at the later criminal trial. However, experts said that the dual arrest policy meant that victims would often avoid calling the police out of fear they would be arrested. That is why the state passed a Dominant Aggressor Law, which took effect January 1, 2019. This law gave police officers the ability to only arrest one person instead of two.

Connecticut Mandatory Arrest Policy Makes Police Decide Who’s to Blame

When the Dominant Aggressor law went into effect in 2019, Connecticut became one of 27 states that have mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence. The current law says:

“Whenever a peace officer determines upon speedy information that a family violence crime has been committed within such officer’s jurisdiction, such officer shall arrest the person or persons suspected of its commission and charge such person or persons with the appropriate crime.”

This is a mandatory arrest based on probable cause. It does not depend on:

  1. The victim’s consent
  2. The relationship of the parties
  3. The isolated request of the victim

Instead, when a police officer gets complaints from two opposing people and has probable cause to believe both of them, it is up to the officer to decide who is the “dominant aggressor” and arrest that person.

How Police Determine the Dominant Aggressor in Domestic Violence Cases

In deciding who to arrest as the dominant aggressor, police officers are required to consider several factors:

  1. The need to protect the victims of domestic violence
  2. Whether one person was acting in self defense or defense of a third person (including a child)
  3. The relative injuries each party received
  4. Any threats of further physical injury
  5. The history of family violence between the parties

There are also several exceptions within the state’s mandatory arrest laws. Police are not required to arrest someone in cases of:

  • Verbal abuse or arguments without physical assault or threatened violence
  • Roommates who are not in a romantic relationship
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Parents disciplining their children (that does not rise to the level of child abuse)

The Dominant Aggressor law doesn’t mean that dual arrests can’t happen, though they are far less common now. The mandatory arrest requirements only apply to the person the police officer identifies as the dominant aggressor. However, the officer may choose to arrest both parties if the circumstances justify it.

For Devin and Daryll, the Dominant Aggressor law means that the officer responding to the domestic violence call would need to listen to both their stories. Because Daryll punched Devin, Devin likely received more serious injuries. However, if Devin continued to make threats after the officer arrived, or if the family had a history of incidents, the officer could still determine that Devin was the dominant aggressor and only arrest them.

If You Aren’t Arrested, Can You Still be Charged with Family Violence?

Just because the police officer did not arrest both parties at the scene, that doesn’t mean the “non-dominant” party is automatically off the hook for family violence. Connecticut state law allows an officer to submit a report to the state attorney after the arrest is over. If the state attorney believes there are grounds to arrest the non-dominant party, they can issue a warrant and start family violence criminal proceedings even without the arrest.

By creating a Dominant Aggressor law, Connecticut lawmakers hoped to protect domestic violence victims and keep them from being arrested by the officers they turned to for protection. However, placing the decision of who to arrest in the police officers’ hands means that sometimes the officers will get it wrong. Sometimes the victims of systemic domestic violence can appear to be the dominant aggressor in the moment. Other times, an aggressor may be better able to smooth things over with the police. In still other cases, assumptions about gender roles or stereotypes might color the officers’ decision-making.

There are many reasons why the wrong person may be arrested and charged in a domestic violence case. The consequences of domestic violence can start as soon as the charges are filed. They can make life difficult for families and individuals, even when no one wanted the arrest in the first place. At the Lebedevitch Law Firm, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, criminal defense attorney Stephen Lebedevitch knows how Connecticut family violence laws work. He will stand beside you from arraignment to sentencing or acquittal, and will advocate to protect your rights, your reputation, and your freedom. Contact us for a free consultation to talk to Stephen today.

Categories: Domestic Violence