Friday, January 13, 2006

New Wisconsin Law Defines Predominant Aggressor

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle signed a new law January 5th intended to prevent the arrest of victims of domestic violence. The law, which is expected to go into effect April 1, directs police to arrest the predominant aggressor in a dispute, not someone who has lashed out in self-defense. It fine tunes an act that took effect in April 1989 that made an arrest mandatory in domestic violence cases.

Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the bill would help prevent victims from being arrested unjustly. "The impact of the arrest alone is stunning," she said. "There's a financial cost, but there's a huge psychological, emotional toll that that takes on a victim."

The new law replaces the term "primary aggressor" with "predominant aggressor" to identify the most significant attacker, not just who hit first. It also urges officers not to arrest anyone else in a dispute and hold the suspect until the person posts bail or appears before a judge.

Sen. Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire, who cosponsored the bill, said the law will likely help police determine who should be arrested. According to the latest state Justice Department data available, nearly 4 percent, or 641 incidents, resulted in multiple arrests or charges in 17,827 domestic disputes across the state of Wisconsin in 2003.

The law also sets out more criteria for police to consider when determining who to arrest, including:

- the history of domestic abuse between the parties,
- witness statements,
- the relative degree of injury to the parties,
- the extent to which a party appears to fear another,
- whether someone is making threats about future harm,
- whether someone acted to defend himself or herself or another

The bill is AB 436.

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