History behind Connecticut’s Family, or Domestic, Violence Laws
Prior to 1983, police who were called to respond to domestic incidents often acted as peacekeepers and deescalated volatile situations. When responding to domestic incidents, police did not always arrest the individual, or individuals, involved in a family, or domestic, dispute.
The role of the police in domestic violence situations changed in 1983, after a woman named Tracey Thurman from Torrington, Connecticut, was stabbed multiple times by her estranged husband. Prior to her attack, Ms. Thurman had repeatedly reported her husband’s threatening behavior to the police and requested protection. Most of her reports went uninvestigated. Following her brutal assault, Ms. Thurman filed a lawsuit against the town of Torrington and its police department for failing to protect her. She was awarded almost two million dollars in damages.
In 1986, following this lawsuit, Connecticut instituted major reforms of its domestic violence laws.
Under the Family Violence Prevention and Response Act:
- Police receive extensive training on domestic violence response and are required to make arrests in domestic violence cases if they find probable cause a crime has been committed, even if the victim does not wish to press charges.
- Additionally, domestic violence units have been created in courts, domestic violence matters are handled on a separate docket, and defendants are required to appear in court within 24 hours of their arrest.
What happens when police are called to a domestic incident
If police respond and determine domestic violence occurred, they will make an arrest. If the police are called to respond to a domestic violence offense, and an officer determines there is probable cause that someone committed a domestic violence offense, that individual will be arrested.
It is important to understand that family violence is defined under Connecticut General Statutes.
Under Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-38a, family violence is defined as an:
- incident resulting in physical harm, bodily injury or assault, or
- act of threatened violence that constitutes fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault.
Even verbal conduct can be considered family violence. The statute explicitly indicates that verbal abuse or argument can constitute a family violence crime if there is present danger and the likelihood that physical violence will occur.
While you may have only gotten into a verbal argument, if the police respond, they must assess the situation and make a judgement call. Police will always err on the side of caution when making these decisions.
Police officers are not required to arrest both individuals. In fact, law enforcement is discouraged (although not prohibited) from making dual arrests.
Until recently, law enforcement officers sometimes arrested both parties involved in a domestic violence incident, which is often referred to as a dual arrest. Police sometimes arrested both parties involved in a dispute, mostly because when they responded to the scene of a domestic incident, they were often confronted with a “he said she said” situation. Officers would charge both parties, leaving it up to the courts to figure out how to resolve the dispute.
For years, advocacy agencies for domestic violence victims called for an end to the practice of dual arrests. Victim’s advocates have made the following arguments:
- Dual arrests in domestic violence situations re-traumatize those who suffer abuse.
- The individual who called the police may have been victimized for a long time and finally had the courage to call the police. If police arrest the victim, that individual may not reach out again for help.
- Dual arrests traumatize children who witness a victim, usually a parent, get arrested. This can lead additional anxiety and fear that the system is not protecting them or their parent who has been abused.
Connecticut now has a dominant aggressor law.
Officers are now directed to make a determination whether one party is the “dominant aggressor” and should be arrested.
A dominant aggressor is defined as the person who poses the most serious ongoing threat in a situation involving the suspected commission of a family violence crime.
Police are mandated to evaluate the situation, attempt to interview the parties and make a determination regarding which individual is the dominant aggressor.
Responding officers have to make a judgment call based on their training, experience and assessment of the situation. When determining who the dominant aggressor is, the officer considers the following factors based on the information available at the time:
- The need to protect victims of domestic violence
- Whether the person’s actions were in self-defense, or in defense of a third party or parties
- The nature of the injuries reported
- The nature of the threats made regarding physical injury
- Any history of family violence
The person who is identified as the dominant aggressor will be arrested.
Contact a Domestic Violence Lawyer.
If you have any questions about current domestic violence laws or if you have been involved in a domestic incident, contact the attorneys at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC. Attorneys Audrey Felsen and Bruce Koffsky are experienced in handling domestic violence matters and will be able to advise and guide you throughout the process. Contact us at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC at 203-327-1500 to speak with one of our attorneys and get the answers and help you need.