Friday, February 3, 2012

Mandatory Arrest Is Not The Answer

Domestic violence is a serious social problem for American families, especially for women. It is estimated that there are roughly four million occurrences of domestic violence each year in the United State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has revealed that a man beats a women every fifteen seconds (Moridini 2004: 295). In addition, studies have found that women have a two hundred percent greater risk of being assaulted by a member of her family than by someone on the outside (Moridini 2004: 297)


In order to combat domestic violence, the United States government has tried a great number of different approaches. In fact, since 1980 there have been over 1,500 new laws enacted across the country dealing with domestic problems (Miller 2005) These policies have been quite controversial, especially the laws that deal with mandatory arrest. Some people believe that mandatory arrest policies should be viewed as an improvement of past law enforcement practices while other feel that it has harmful implications for battered women. My personal stance is that mandatory arrest policies create more harm than good and should not be utilized because it fails to take in account that all victims are not the same, it takes away victim's ability to determine what the best choice is for their situation at the time, and it creates unintended consequences.

Mandatory arrest refers to the legal duty of a police officer to make an arrest if he finds probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed by any party in a domestic dispute( Miller 2005). Essentially, it instructs the officer that arrest is the preferred/correct decision to make in a domestic case. However, this creates an obvious dilemma. Is it correct to make arrest the mandatory policy in domestic disputes even though it is known that all victims/situations are not the same?

Mandatory arrest laws fail to take into account that all domestic violence cases and their victims are not the same. This policy assumes that all victims want their batters arrested, when this is actually not always the case. For example, a wife might not want her husband arrested because she is dependent on his income (Miller 2005). Mandatory arrest requires that her husband be taken to jail which means that she might not be able to provide for herself or child since he is the sole provider for the family. That is why it is very important that the woman has a choice in the matter so she does not encounter this possible economic problem.
The implementation of mandatory arrest policies take away the victim's ability to determine what the best choice is for them after the domestic violence has occurred. This argument is centered around the idea that mandatory arrest doesn't empower the victims, but rather it strips them of their choice by putting the authorities in the best position to determine the outcome of a situation (Miller 2005). The problem with taking away the choice from the victims is that they might be reluctant to seek police help because they know that doing so will inevitably result in an arrest. Essentially, mandatory arrest policies fail to acknowledge that victims may want protection or intervention but may not necessarily want their partner put behind bars ( Miller 2005) It is important that victims have a choice after the domestic violence occurs because authorities cannot assume that they know what is best for each individual. Is it possible that they could know a person's situation better than that specific individual? My answer is absolutely not. Therefore, they are in no position to affect the outcome of that person's life without giving them a choice in the matter.

The various unintended consequences associated with mandatory arrest also pose a problem. For example, the use of mandatory policies can lead to more violence. Arresting batters could possibly provoke them to become increasingly more violent and take it out on their partner (Lyenger 2007). A recent study has shown that when comparing states with mandatory arrest laws they have about a 50% higher homicide rate than states without such laws (Lyenger 2007:9). I assume that this increase is due to mandatory arrest policies deterring victims from calling the police. I base this on the idea that police intervention may keep the level of violence from escalating, but if victims are reluctant to call because they do not want their batters arrested then this intervention will never take place.

It is terribly sad that a man beats a women every fifteen seconds in the United States but mandatory arrest policies are definitely not part of the solution; they are part of the problem. 
  1. Lyengar, Radha. “The Protection Battered Spouses Don’t Need.” New York Times 7 Aug. 2007, late ed.:19.
  2. Mordini, Nichole Miras.“Mandatory State Interventions for Domestic Abuse Cases: An Examination of the Effects on Victim Safety and Autonomy.” 52 Drake Law Review 295 Winter (2004)


  1. "Every two minutes, someone in America is being sexually assaulted." You really got a good message coming from this blog. People need to open there eyes and realize that this does effect tons of people and messes with how they think and act. It is true how mandatory arrest is not always wanted by the spouse. I'm taking a family violence class and I've been seeing awful statistics that makes me ill to think about. One statistic that stands out was that "the average woman goes back 7 times before realizing that they are in harm." The system always are seeing the same couple coming in and out, but they always seem to bail them out and go back to normal. Family violence is awful for children because they see the violence and they become immune to it and think it's alright to be violent and act out in this wrongful way. Mandatory arrest fails often, but breaking the cycle is the goal. The victims need to overcome these emotions and bad influences and seek to whats best for them. This was a great blog.

  2. I agree that domestic violence is a serious problem and there needs to be more attention brought to it. I believe that mandatory arrests however are not the answer. It is taking discretion away from the officers. They should be allowed to rely on their experience and determine what is going on and what actions need to be taken. I would also like to point out that it is not always the male assaulting the female. I think this needs brought up. I have personally seen an incident where the female was the aggressor and the only one who committed any offense. One of the neighbors heard the incident and called the cops. There were three eyewitnesses there who all told the cops exactly what happened and the male was still arrested and the female was not. I understand that most of the time it is the male who is the aggressor in these things but I think it is worth bringing up that it is not always the case. It is possible for males to be the victims of domestic violence.

  3. I think that this post brings up some very interesting points about mandatory arrest laws, and I do agree that they do not work and should not be implemented. The only good thing about mandatory arrest laws is that they have brought more attention to domestic violence. Domestic violence is taken a lot more seriously now and is treated as an important criminal justice issue. I think that most officers would consider arresting offenders if they thought that was the most appropriate remedy, but it would be best if officers had the discretion to act in a way that would be best for everyone. In some instances this might be arrest, but it may also be playing the role of mediator or separating the couple for a short time. It is also important to listen to the wishes of the person being abused. If officers do not listen to the victim, the victim may not call the police next time and next time could be fatal without police intervention.

  4. I agree, you do have a good message from this blog. However, I also feel like you have to look at it from different angles. You say that victims should be able to choose whether they want a party arrested, but it is never the victim's choice with these kinds of matters because the crime is a wrong against the state.

    Also, you have to consider different situations. Say, for example, an officer is called out to a domestic dispute. Both parties are upset and heated, but the wife does not want to press charges against the husband. What would happen if later, that very same officer was called back to the scene to find the wife dead? While he may not be legally responsible for her death, he definitely feels morally responsible and that would be a hard thing to carry with you for your life. While this is probably not a common situation, this kind of thing happening one time because an officer failed to place someone under arrest for domestic violence is one time too many.