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What is Mandatory Arrest?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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A mandatory arrest law is a domestic violence statute that requires police to arrest an alleged batterer regardless of evidence or the wishes of the victim. Mandatory arrests are common in some regions but not used in others, partially due to considerable controversy over the validity of the law. While proponents say that mandatory arrest can save lives and may be more effective than other police domestic abuse tactics, opponents suggest that it may actually reduce the likelihood that abuse victims will call the police, and sometimes disregards the rights of the accused by failing to require evidence or probable cause for arrest.

Mandatory arrest laws gained popularity following a 1984 study conducted in Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to this study, police found that arrest was the most successful means of diffusing a domestic violence situation and preventing an abuser from continuing to batter his or her victims. It also found a strong correlation between the place of the abuser in the community and his or her willingness to change behavior; in cases with a strongly connected defendant, shame following arrest was believed to be a primary motivating factor in behavioral change. In the following decades, more than 20 US states, as well as other countries such as New Zealand, adopted mandatory arrest or pro-arrest policies for domestic abuse.

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The argument for mandatory arrest is based on the results of the 1984 study, as well as a general belief that removing an alleged attacker from contact with a victim is a means of protection for all involved. Proponents argue that insisting on arrest regardless of the victim's desires can be important, since victims are often suffering from psychological as well as physical abuse and may not be able to rationally assess the situation. The goal of mandatory arrest is to physically protect victims that are too afraid of retaliation to press charges on their own account.

Unfortunately, detractors suggest that the policy can sometimes have the exact opposite effect. Abuse victims, knowing that an arrest will occur, may be too afraid to call the police for fear of retaliation from their abuser. According to some experts, the shame felt by the abuser upon arrest may be channeled into anger at the victim, which can sometimes trigger more violence and even homicide. Since an arrest does not guarantee a conviction, permanent restraining order, or other protection, a victim who does call the police may find his or her abuser back at the door within hours or weeks, and may be too frightened or wracked with guilt to call for help again.

The policy of mandatory arrest also calls into consideration the rights of the accused. Unless the statute specifies that there must be probable cause for arrest, such as evidence of injuries or witness accounts, law enforcement must arrest the alleged attacker regardless of any factors. The opportunity for misuse of this type of law can be enormous, as even a neighbor misinterpreting sounds heard through a wall could lead to a mandatory arrest. Since domestic abuse charges can do considerable damage to personal and professional reputation, critics argue that safeguards must be in place to protect the rights of the accused.

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