A shocking study released challenges the widely-held ‘mandatory arrest’ policies that many law enforcement agencies have adopted when it comes to domestic violence. The American-based study found that victims of minor domestic assault cases were four times more likely to die prematurely. The policy, which has been widely adopted in North America and Europe for over three decades, requires police to arrest anyone they suspect of domestic violence, irrespective of the seriousness of the crime. Underpinning this policy is the belief that by arresting someone even engaged in minor domestic assault, you are deterring the accused from committing future domestic assault violence and putting the clamps on potentially repeat offenders.
The study looked into 1200 domestic assault cases in Milwaukee finding that there is up to a four-fold increase in early death for victims who were employed at the time of the violence, with this effect strongest among African-Americans. The findings are to be presented jointly in the United States and at a policing conference in the United Kingdom. Lawrence W. Sherman, a criminologist professor at Cambridge University, said that the experiment was medically mysterious but suggested that the health factors that negatively impact the quality of life, such as depression, loneliness, post-traumatic stress, which can contribute to cancer, heart disease and other illnesses, should not be downplayed in assessing the efficacy of the criminal justice system and policing techniques. Sherman emphasizes that the victim must always be protected and that policing techniques should factor this into the equation.
In many parts of Canada, police employ a rigorous zero tolerance policy to domestic assault cases. There have been numerous stories that show that taking such a heavy-handed approach with domestic assault cases and arresting the alleged on-site, instead of de-escalating the situation, reaps negative long-term effects on both the victims and the accused.
Edward Prutschi, a criminal lawyer and the legal analyst for NewsTalk1010 was in studio with Jerry Agar to discuss this finding that highlights a shocking example of unintended consequences. Mr. Prutschi is first asked if there is a zero tolerance policy for domestic assault cases in Canada, with any trace of a domestic assault situation warranting immediate arrest, in which Mr. Prutschi replied that such a policy is certainly in place. Jerry Agar then asks Mr. Prutschi, what usually happens to the victims once the accused is arrested or charged.
Mr. Prutschi, a domestic assault lawyer, theorizes and takes us through a possibility of outcomes that validates the findings of this study. Mr. Prutschi runs through a common incident and what transpires: a wife and husband get into an argument and they call the police to help de-escalate the situation. The police show up and hear the stories of the parties. If in this process, they hear that physical altercation was at play, they will arrest the accused on the spot. Often times, the victim will protest the arrest and just wanted the police to talk to their husband or live-in boyfriend but fail to realize the police officers are instructed by their Sergeants and those higher up in the chain-of-command to make an arrest. The women who do call police for minor domestic assault do not expect the full machinery of the law to come crashing down on them. The accused will then stay overnight in jail, will not be released until he gets a bail hearing – and once he does get a bail hearing – he will be informed that he cannot get in touch with his wife or children. Mr. Prutschi, a Toronto criminal lawyer, who has served on many domestic assault cases, argues that this is what usually transpires and is a common narrative in the criminal law world, and argues that it is a life-altering situation for those involved.
The women, who are often the victim, will be thrust into the breadwinner role – which can be overwhelming – and feel stigmatized for being a victim of abuse, and such a traumatizing incident may result in the breaking up of an otherwise normally functional family. It is no wonder, Mr. Prutschi argues, that this incident can seriously affect a person’s mental well-being and result in elevated stress levels which can contribute to an untimely death.