19 Apr

Domestic Abuse Law Too Lenient For Serial Offenders

by in Criminal Defense

Recently, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley pleaded with the residents of Massachusetts to take action. He urged them to contact their legislators on Valentines Day to support proposed legislation that aims to protect victims of domestic violence and enhance penalties for serial abusers.

Conley posted on his Facebook page, “I’m calling on my legislators to support An Act Relative to Domestic Abuse and Public Safety on behalf of my wife or husband, boyfriend or girlfriend, mother or daughter, father or son. There’s no better way to show you care for your partner than to support safety and respect in all relationships.” And Conley couldn’t have hit the nail more on the head. It’s clear that domestic violence must be addressed. The costs paid by affected individuals are too high. Victims must be protected from the physical and emotional pain associated with domestic violence and they must be protected now. It is time to take a look at the law and make some substantive changes that will at the very least seriously deter would-be offenders.

Sponsored by state Rep. Ed Coppinger, D-West Roxbury, the key components An Act Relative to Domestic Abuse and Public Safety include: (1) Creating harsher penalties for second or subsequent offenders, (2) Providing specific penalties for assault and battery by strangulation, and (3) Prohibiting judges from using accord and satisfaction statutes to dismiss cases.

The law is too easy on serial batterers. As written, serial abusers face only a misdemeanor conviction with a maximum sentence of 2.5 years in a house of correction. An Act Relative to Domestic Abuse and Public Safety raises the maximum penalty for these offenders to 5 years in a state prison. In my opinion, the raise in penalty isn’t substantial enough, but it is a step in the right direction. While domestic abuse is horrible in every situation, the type this law aims to target is of the more serious nature because it is continuous and repeated. Our system operates on the theory that the punishment should fit the crime. An Act Relative to Domestic Abuse and Public Safety and its increase in punishment supports this ideology.

Research has shown that battery by strangulation correlates highly with later domestic violence homicides and attempted homicides. Currently, there are no specific penalties for engaging in this specific behavior. An Act Relative to Domestic Abuse and Public Safety implements a 5-year penalty in state prison and in addition, raises the penalty up to 10 years if the victim suffers serious injury, is pregnant, or has a restraining order against the assailant. While it is always going to be hard to keep laws current, we have to consider and take advantage of research as it becomes available. We now know that when domestic violence includes strangulation, there is a higher chance a second attack will take place and that the second attack will be more vicious. With that in mind, prescribing harsher specific penalties for specific behavior is completely justified.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the act aims to prohibit accord and satisfaction. Accord and satisfaction essentially allows parties to reach agreements outside of court and may be accepted or rejected within the judge’s discretion. Importantly, the law in its current state allows these agreements even over a prosecutor’s objection. The problem with the doctrine’s use in domestic abuse situations is the sensitive nature of the circumstances and the possibility of pressured victims. It is not uncommon in domestic abuse situations that the abuser has some level of control over the victim, whether physical or emotional. With that said, victims are often pressured or even threatened into entering accord and satisfaction agreements, allowing the abuser to avoid prosecution and subjecting the victim to continued risk. An Act Relative to Domestic Abuse and Public Safety aims to end this cycle by prohibiting the use of these agreements in these cases.

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