Is There a Right to Have an Accused Abuser Arrested?
At least 23 states have laws that require police officers to arrest a person accused of domestic abuse if they have probable cause to do so. Mandatory arrest laws were enacted to correct a perceived problem -- the willingness of officers to drive an accused abuser around the block to let him "cool off" before returning home, rather than taking him to jail. In practice, the laws often result in arrests that accusers would prefer not to happen. Accusers who call the police hoping that their spouses will be lectured or driven around the block to "cool off" are frequently surprised when they find themselves driving to the police station (or a courthouse) to post bail for the spouse they've inadvertently caused to be arrested.
The value of mandatory arrest laws is debatable, particularly when police aren't required to arrest individuals who probably committed much more serious crimes. The laws put the police in a tough position. A wife who calls the police expecting a "cool him off" response may be shocked to learn that the police, as a result of her call, will cart her husband off to jail, and may beg the police not to make an arrest. The officer then confronts a difficult choice: disregard the law and honor the wife's request, or follow the law and make a bad domestic situation even worse.
The Supreme Court heard argument today in a case that asks whether the police violate the Constitution by disregarding a mandatory arrest law. The facts of the case are horrific. Jessica Gonzalez told the police that her daughters were missing, probably abducted by her estranged husband in violation of a restraining order that barred him from contacting the children. The police took no action.
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