“Domestic Assault” to be declared crime in Maine

Domestic violence bills presented to Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee

AUGUSTA: Two measures addressing domestic violence were introduced Wednesday afternoon by their respective sponsors before the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

According to a press release from the Office of the President of the Maine Senate, until now, existing crimes used to prosecute domestic violence such as criminal threatening, terrorizing, property destruction, kidnapping, trespass, weapon possession, or violation of a protective order could not adequately account for the dynamics of domestic abuse.

Senate President Edmonds sponsored “An Act to Protect Families and Enhance Public Safety by Making Domestic Violence a Crime” (LD 1627). This change in the current law would create a crime called “Domestic Assault.”

The measure is co-sponsored by nearly 90 Maine lawmakers.

”LD 1627 is one more instrument that law enforcement and prosecutors can use to send the powerful message to both victims and abusers that domestic violence will not be tolerated here in Maine,” said Edmonds in the release. “In any form. In any context. In any circumstance. This bill creates a separate crime called ‘domestic violence.”

Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, co-sponsored the legislation. ”Unfortunately, for some members of our society their family is not a stabilizing force, and instead of encouragement or understanding their home is filled with a pattern of violence,” he testified. “The statistics on domestic violence are startling. According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, domestic assault is reported to police every 104 minutes in Maine. “

According to the press release, this measure presents an opportunity for Maine to be the first in the nation to recognize the limitations of the current criminal justice response by enacting a law that captures a course of conduct in family relationships. It will give prosecutors and district attorneys more tools to prosecute this tragic crime.

The bill creates the Class D crime of domestic violence that includes certain criminal offenses against a person who is a family or household member and an elevated category that is a Class C crime if the person has certain past convictions of a qualifying protection order issued against the person.

”The legislation will permit law enforcement officers to better appreciate and enforce the laws, allow them to better track the violators and assist in the review and processing of weapons requests and restriction under the Federal Violence Against Woman Act,” said Anne Jordan, Maine Public Safety Commissioner.

Additional testimony in favor was made by Kennebec/Somerset County District Attorney Everet Fowle, who is also vice president of the Maine Prosecutors Association. Vendean Vafiades of Hallowell and Lois Galgay Reckitt of Portland also testified, as did survivors of domestic violence.

Rep. Deborah Simpson sponsored “An Act Regarding the Determination of the Predominant Aggressor in Domestic Violence Situations” (LD 1039).

At times, victims of domestic violence at times strike back. Whether in self-defense or in a preventative mode in anticipation of being hit because of a “trigger” the aggressor has used, the victim, she said, should not be considered the predominant aggressor.

In her opening testimony, Rep. Simpson described examples. “I think there is a problem in these domestic violence situations,” she said. “Police need to figure out before they start arresting people, who the real criminal is.”

This measure aims to prevent the arrest of victims by requiring law enforcement to evaluate who is the predominant physical aggressor in domestic abuse circumstances. Predominant Aggressor statutes help promote victim safety by providing guidelines by which law enforcement officers can fully assess a situation rather than make an arrest based on apparent injuries to one party.

According to testimony by Gretchen Ziemer of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, this measure would bring Maine in line with 18 other state that have adopted predominant aggressor analysis and department policies.

These bills will be scheduled for work sessions.

A third bill relating to adequate funding of Domestic Violence and sexual assault prevention and intervention funding may be scheduled for a future public hearing. It is “An Act to Prevent Violence against Maine Families and to Provide Adequate Intervention in Cases of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault” (LD 1224), sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond.