New Domestic Violence Laws
Marie De Santis, Women's Justice Center
effect since January 1, 2000, a patchwork of new California
domestic violence laws is already providing added help for domestic
violence victims. The laws, however, still leave untouched some
of the biggest obstacles victims face. Here are some highlights
of the new laws and a quick look at what's left to be done.
arrest for restraining order violations (Penal Code §836).
This law recognizes both the dangerousness of restraining order
violations and the casual treatment these violations too often
receive from police. California police are now mandated to arrest
offenders who violate domestic violence restraining orders.
The big gap in this legislation is that there is no equivalent
obligation on district attorneys to prosecute these violations
cases sent to them by police.
coverage of domestic violence criminal law protections to
include former spouses and cohabitants (Penal Code §243(e)
and 273.5). Previously only married couples and co-parents
of a child were covered under section 273.5 provisions.
that police remove all firearms at domestic violence scenes
up to $2,000 housing relocation funds for domestic violence
victims (AB606). Housing problems all too frequently keep
many women from considering making an escape, especially if
they have children. Now every domestic violence victim in
California who reports to police is eligible for up to $2,000
to cover costs of housing relocation. Sonoma County Victim
Assistance Program has already streamlined the process to
make those funds available as early as one week following
the woman's application.
missing piece in this legislation is that these monies unfortunately
do not cover the situation in which the offender has been
arrested and the victim suddenly finds herself unable to cover
rent on her existing housing. In this common situation the
victim is forced to find new housing and relocate in order
to be eligible for the funds.
Requires that police and prosecutors give victims one free
copy of the domestic violence report within five days of being
requested (Family Code §6228). The big advantage for victims
in this legislation is that they will be able to determine
if all the evidence available has actually been investigated
and entered into the report. Some officials in Sonoma County
are failing to comply with this legislation and are refusing
to make the reports available to victims under any conditions.
that Family Courts make a presumption that giving custody
to a perpetrator of domestic violence is detrimental to the
child (Family Code §3044).
that the California Judicial Council make domestic violence
forms available in languages other than English by July 1,
2001 (Code of Civil Procedure §185). This legislation,
and more like it, is especially needed in Sonoma County where
police and prosecutors frequently make inadequate efforts
to obtain accurate statements from Spanish-speaking victims
of rape, domestic violence, and child abuse.
that an employer may not discharge, discriminate, or retaliate
against an employee, domestic violence victim who takes time
off work to "attempt to .....ensure the health, safety, or welfare
of a domestic violence victim or his or her child" (Labor Code
Attorney Power Still Unfettered
critical area for victims of rape, domestic violence, and child
abuse that has been left ignored by legislators this year and
in years past is the district attorney's absolute power to refuse
to file charges no matter how solid the evidence. Even if a
district attorney refuses to file charges on a whole crime category,
there is no legal remedy for victims. This unrestricted prosecutorial
discretion is particularly dangerous for women in Sonoma County
where D.A. Mike Mullins' rate of conviction on domestic violence
is one of the lowest in the state, and where he systematically
under-charges cases of violence against women and children.
example, at this writing, we at Women's Justice Center have
a case of three days of spousal rape, sodomy and beatings which
the district attorney has filed only as misdemeanor domestic
violence. The detective in the case states there is ample evidence
to file multiple felonies.
another case of a woman beaten to the point of a fractured skull,
the D. A. refused to file at all for five months until one day
the perpetrator went out and committed another assault with
a deadly weapon on another victim. In yet another case of spousal
rape, the district attorney and Cloverdale Police have been
fighting for six months over who should pay for translating
key evidence. Sadly, those are just a few of many examples.
only are all women put in direct and great danger by the absence
of any legislative check on the district attorney's denial of
justice to women, but the D.A.'s refusal to file proper charges
on these cases also suffocates and discourages police efforts.
We need to work with our legislators to give them the fortitude
to put restrictions on district attorney discretion now.
Spanish translation of this and other violence against women
information, see the WJC website: www.justicewomen.com