Monday, October 10, 2011

Is This Really a Bad Idea?

The city of Topeka, Kansas is coming under fire because it has announced that, due to lack of resources, it will no longer prosecute misdemeanor domestic violence cases.  This follows the Shawnee County District Attorney's announcement that that agency will no longer prosecute misdemeanors.

Naturally, this is being made to look like a regression back to the Neanderthal era, when a caveman could get away with clunking a woman over the head with a club and dragging her off by her hair.  "When an abusive partner is arrested, the victim's danger level increases," says Becky Dickinson, interim director of the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment. "The abuser will often become more violent in an attempt to regain control. Letting abusive partners out of jail with no consequences puts victims in incredibly dangerous positions."

What doesn't get mentioned is the fact that domestic violence has been politicized to such an extent that it is almost impossible to deal with it in a common-sense, reasonable manner.  Section 21-5414(a) of the Kansas Statutes defines domestic battery as follows (emphasis added):
(a) Domestic battery is:

(1) Knowingly or recklessly causing bodily harm by a family or household member against a family or household member; or

(2) knowingly causing physical contact with a family or household member by a family or household member when done in a rude, insulting or angry manner.
Section 21-5414(c)(1) defines a "family or household member and provides in relevant part:
"Family or household member" means persons 18 years of age or older who are spouses, former spouses, parents or stepparents and children or stepchildren, and persons who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past, and persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they have been married or who have lived together at any time. "Family or household member" also includes a man and woman if the woman is pregnant and the man is alleged to be the father, regardless of whether they have been married or have lived together at any time.... 
A couple of things become immediately apparent.  First, in an age when the status of "victim" is prized so highly, any person aggrieved by someone living under the same roof has an inordinate amount of leverage to invoke draconian penalties against the other party, including the near-total and irretrievable loss of his Second Amendment rights under the federal Violence Against Women Act, whose sanctions are triggered by a misdemeanor conviction related to domestic violence -- even if the conviction is for a lesser offense.  Thus is a further wedge driven between family members in the shape of a hair-trigger "right" to invoke the coercive police powers of the state, instead of resorting to the charitable resolution of domestic disputes.

Secondly, it is clear that the law ranks a trivial, non-harmful incident during a fight -- say, a push -- with a bloody beat-down that lands a woman in the hospital with bruises and broken bones.  As a denizen of the criminal justice system, I can attest that a good many domestic violence cases are of the push variety, where no one was actually physically injured.  Thus is authentic domestic violence trivialized.   

So before we start condemning the city of Topeka for setting the clock back to the Neolithic Age, perhaps we ought to take stock of the consequences of political correctness on the law of domestic violence, before we all end up in the same fiscal bind.

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