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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Don’t weaken NH’s domestic violence laws

Telegraph Editorial

It has been nearly 40 years since Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to establish a coalition against domestic violence and to enact legislation that specifically provided orders of protection for battered women.

New Hampshire and other states would follow with similar legislation years later, but even today acts of domestic violence continue to be among the most under-reported crimes in the nation. ...

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It has been nearly 40 years since Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to establish a coalition against domestic violence and to enact legislation that specifically provided orders of protection for battered women.

New Hampshire and other states would follow with similar legislation years later, but even today acts of domestic violence continue to be among the most under-reported crimes in the nation.

That’s why we’re scratching our collective heads over legislation introduced this session that would make it more difficult for law enforcement officers to arrest anyone suspected of engaging in this abhorrent behavior.

On Tuesday afternoon, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee was scheduled to take testimony on two controversial bills that would make significant changes to the state’s domestic violence laws – and not for the better.

The first bill (HB 502) would require a police officer to either witness the abuse firsthand or secure a criminal complaint in order to arrest an individual in a domestic violence situation. A companion bill (HB 503) specifically requires a criminal complaint to be filed before an arrest can be made.

Under current state law, an officer who responds to a home and suspects domestic abuse can make an arrest regardless of whether he or she witnessed it or a formal complaint has been filed.

The two bills are the brainchild of Rep. Dan Itse, R-Fremont, who filed similar legislation last year. That bill (HB 1851), which would have placed restrictions on the authority of law enforcement officers to make an arrest without a warrant, was killed in the House on a voice vote after this same committee recommended that it do so by a 14-0 vote.

We trust the committee will reach the same conclusion with these ill-conceived bills, which would roll back domestic violence protections that have been in place since the Legislature overhauled the Protection of Persons from Domestic Violence law (Chapter 173-B) in 1999.

For his part, Itse has raised concerns with two aspects of the law: that officers can make an arrest without a warrant and without requiring a formal criminal complaint from the purported victim.

Itse believes that makes it too easy for someone to make false accusations – perhaps to be used in later divorce or child custody proceedings – with no ramifications. If a criminal complaint were required, he said, at least filing one under false pretenses could be prosecuted as a crime.

Perhaps. But that hardly justifies undermining the state’s domestic violence laws by making it more difficult for law enforcement officers to protect the real victims.

“Common sense dictates – and I think the public is pretty strongly behind us – that if a police officer
arrives at a scene, and they see a battered victim of domestic violence, they should be able to arrest the offender on probable cause,” Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public policy for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, told the Concord Monitor earlier this month.

We agree. In a state where half the homicides from 2001-10 were linked to domestic violence (79 of 159) – and only 4 percent of the victims had a protective order in place when they were killed – the last thing lawmakers should be doing is placing restrictions on those officers charged with upholding the state’s domestic violence laws.