Domestic violence is a tragic occurrence, and it is something that happens far too often both in our state and our country as a whole. How often? The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control says that 1 in 3 women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that 1 in 4 men will also be victims of domestic violence.
One of the most tragic elements of domestic violence is that the victim often feels conflicted due to their inability to reconcile the abuse they are receiving with the love that he or she has for the abuser. This conflict, along with various other reasons, are why many victims of domestic violence (or witnesses to the violence) stay silent about the crimes. Close to half of all domestic violence cases go unreported to the authorities. If domestic violence goes on too long, however, it can result in serious bodily injuries, or even death.
Colorado has taken measures into its own hands by enacting strict laws to put abusers behind bars and prevent continuous domestic violence. These laws come with good intentions, and allow for action to be taken even when a victim is afraid or unsure as to how to come forward with an accusation. But have these laws gone too far?
Mandatory Arrests Sometimes Means Unnecessary Arrests
The police may need to address an incident of possible domestic violence for many reasons: it might happen in public, victims could report the case themselves, or a neighbor or concerned witness may call in. Because of this, there is a lot of room for miscommunication.
This is especially true if a neighbor or nearby witness who cannot see the incident makes the call. Many arguments can sound like domestic violence, even if no one lays a hand on the other person or no threats are made.
When police arrive, they only get a snapshot of the incident between the people accused of domestic violence. However, it doesn’t take much for police to make an arrest. In fact, a 1994 Colorado law states that if there is probable cause for a police officer to assume that domestic violence has occurred, an arrested must be made. Probable cause includes the presence of any of the following:
While this law has helped many victims get justice when they would not have been able to report the crime otherwise, these mandatory arrests are sometimes totally unnecessary.
For example, individuals have been arrested on domestic violence charges for doing the following before police arrived to the scene:
- Throwing a vase of flowers addressed to their partner’s mistress across the room
- Breaking household items during a mental breakdown due to bipolar disorder
- Throwing or breaking a cell phone
These are not technically incidents of domestic violence, but they can still get someone arrested and charged.
From there, unfortunately, the odds are stacked against the defendant. Even if the alleged victim comes forward to say that no violence occurred, he or she has no power to get the charges dropped. The only one who can do this is the prosecutor on the case. This is due to Colorado laws that say once someone is charged with domestic violence, the state takes over the prosecution.
If the defendant has been charged or convicted on multiple counts of domestic violence, a recent law has put even more power into the prosecution’s hands to ask for harsher charges and longer sentences.
The Future of Domestic Violence Laws in Colorado
Law enforcement officers and specialists who work with domestic violence victims see the benefits – but also the drawbacks – of Colorado’s harsh domestic violence laws. Yes, it is vital that protections are in place to protect victims who may not be ready of able to come forward and face their abuser. However, charging innocent people as a matter of course does little to further the cause of stamping out this epidemic.
The problem is that simply being accused and charged with domestic violence can have detrimental consequences to people’s lives and rights. Even in the best case scenario, it means a stain on your criminal record that can hurt your ability to get a job, find housing, secure a loan, and more.
If you are accused of domestic violence, it is possible that you can walk free and will not have to suffer the long-term consequences of having a domestic violence conviction on your record. It is important to remember, however, that being accused of domestic violence puts you at a disadvantage. Make sure you have the strongest defense strategy possible by reaching out to an experienced domestic violence lawyer by your side.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2016 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.