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Bar News - February 17, 2012

Opinion: Proposed HB1581 Would Aid Domestic Abusers


Thanks to Representative Dan Itse (R-Fremont), the New Hampshire General Court has been considering a bill that will greatly aid an important minority group Ė domestic violence abusers. Yes, sadly, you did read that right: ABUSERS. HB 1581, sponsored primarily by Itse, would prevent police officers from making an arrest for any activity an officer didnít personally witness. Instead, after arriving at a crisis, officers would have to file a report, seek a warrant and return later to make any arrests. While, on first blush, this seems almost reasonable, in reality it lights a short fuse on a powerful bomb and gives abusers one last chance to "finish the job" while police seek a warrant. Domestic violence is a crime with immediate and severe consequences and requires experienced and well-trained police officers to use their professional judgment; HB1581 only serves to delay rescue.

Imagine a young woman is beaten by her husband or boyfriend. (Of course, in Manchester in 2010, the YWCA Crisis Center alone aided some 2,550 such women and, last year, Concordís Rape and Domestic Violence Crisis Center rescued another 1,649 victims, so you donít really need to imagine.) As the situation unfolds, the young victim manages to break away, locks herself in a bathroom and dials 911. Soon, the police arrive and investigate. Convinced the husband assaulted the wife because of a fresh black eye, the officers sternly lecture the husband and then leave to get a warrant. Remember, under the proposed legislation, no arrest can happen, yet. What happens next? Well, over the past five years, 45 percent of all homicides in New Hampshire have been domestic violence-related, so my guess is that this statistic goes up, even with a good, stern lecture. Maybe thatís why the NH Department of Safety, the Attorney Generalís office, NH Legal Assistance, NH Chiefs of Police Association, NH Police Association, NH Trooperís Association, American Civil Liberties Union and the House Majority Office all oppose the bill.

Donít get me wrong, Iím for a presumption of innocence. Iím in favor of smaller, less intrusive government. But, itís naÔve and neglectful to believe that, while a warrant is obtained, an abuser, already so enraged that the police were needed, will calm down or stay away from his victim. I have represented too many victims of domestic violence and heard too many abusers proudly recount their wrongdoing to believe that it is wise to let an abuser remain free while a warrant is obtained. If probable cause for an arrest exists, the safest action is immediate arrest.

Editorís note: At presstime, HB1581 was still before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, scheduled for action by Feb. 23.

Kirk Simoneau, a partner in the Nixon, Vogelman, Barry, Slawsky & Simoneau law firm in Manchester, is a volunteer in NHBA Pro Bono Referral Programís DOVE Project, aiding survivors of domestic violence in obtaining permanent restraining orders. This article represents the opinions of the author, not necessarily the Pro Bono Program or the Bar Association.

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