Domestic violence laws
April 24, 2002
Because of the emotion involved, domestic violence incidents have the greatest potential for escalating from a screaming match to homicide.
They are among the most frequent and most difficult calls for police to handle, and prosecution of such cases can be as tricky as the messiest of divorce cases.
Nevada lawmakers tried to take the guesswork out of domestic battery cases by taking out any discretion in the law.
If there is any contact between the two people involved, one of them has to go to jail. It’s impossible to say how many times this “cooling off period” has prevented a more serious injury, or even a death. We’d guess there have been many.
Similarly, prosecutors are not allowed to plea-bargain domestic battery cases. We know the difficulties in such cases, when the cold light of dawn often brings reconciliation between a husband and wife, when the temptation is to forgive and forget.
But we also understand the cycle of violence that too often leads the same couple back over the same battleground again and again.
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Nevada legislators, through their get-tough laws, have sent the message domestic battery is a serious crime with serious consequences. But we agree with some lawmakers and justices of the peace who now say there needs to be room for discretion.
Laws that tie the hands of police, prosecutors and judges assume those people aren’t capable of doing their jobs. If that were the case — and we don’t think it is — then the answer would be to get somebody who can do the job.
In practice, we rely on police officers, lawyers and judges to be able to respond and react to every conceivable situation with their own best judgment. We trust they have the experience and common sense to do the right thing.
Will they be right every single time? No. But our system has checks and balances to see justice is done. Laws that are unable to distinguish between two brothers fighting and a potentially homicidal husband aren’t right every single time, either.
Exactly because of the broad spectrum of domestic violence incidents, law enforcement needs some flexibility. Legislators who will be studying the issue can craft laws to support officers, prosecutors and judges, not attempt to replace them.
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