Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. The Legal Environment

10/01/1996

A number of California laws were reported to be important factors in the community's response to domestic violence. California penal code defines domestic violence as a felony, making it a more serious offense than a similar assault by an unrelated individual, which is a misdemeanor and requires a citizen's arrest. By making domestic violence a felony, a police officer can arrest the perpetrator if the victim has a visible injury or an injury requiring treatment, thereby taking the burden off of the victim for pressing charges. The domestic violence statute was recently expanded to include violence between same sex partners. The San Francisco Police Department emphasizes felony arrests for domestic violence, and perpetrators in domestic violence cases are charged with a felony whenever possible. The Department has also adopted a mandatory arrest policy, so that if an officer responds to a call and there is evidence of a crime, the perpetrator must be arrested. Many people felt that the felony law and mandatory arrest policy were important factors in the law enforcement response to domestic violence.

Until recently, a judgement called "civil compromise" was used quite frequently in domestic violence cases in San Francisco. A civil compromise basically dismisses the case and the defendant has no criminal record. Statewide statistics indicated that Judges in San Francisco issued civil compromises in domestic violence cases more than Judges in any other part of the state. Members of the domestic violence community provided this information to the media and the number of civil compromises decreased. Currently, there is legislation pending to eliminate civil compromise for domestic violence cases.