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Insight from WFPD: Defining domestic violence, offenses involved, how to react

In 2011 West Fargo Police Officers investigated seventy assault cases which fell into the definition of domestic violence. Sixty-two assaults were committed by adults and eight by juveniles less than eighteen years of age. Eight assaults were considered aggravated assaults and sixty-two were an assault or a simple assault. To better understand why an assault may be considered under the domestic violence statute the following information is provided.

As defined in the North Dakota Century Code, domestic violence includes physical harm, bodily injury, sexual activity compelled by physical force, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, sexual activity compelled by physical force, or assault, not committed in self-defense, on the complaining family or household members. By definition the offender must have committed the act or made a credible threat to commit the act upon the victim.

For the offense to be considered under the domestic violence statute, a special relation must exist between the victim and the offender. The Century Code defines that relationship as a family or household member and means a spouse, family member, former spouse, parent, child, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are in a dating relationship, persons who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past, persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they are or have been married or have lived together at any time, and, for the purpose of the issuance of a domestic violence protection order, any other person with a sufficient relationship to the abusing person as determined by the court under section NDCC 14-07.1-02.

As in any act of violence, domestic violence victims will at times attempt to defend themselves or another person from the attack of the offender. The victim's defensive attempts to prevent the violence may result in injury to the offender. The law officer's responsibility during the investigation of domestic violence crimes is to view the evidence presented and determine whether the injuries are the result an assaultive behavior or an injury caused by a defensive action of the victim. The officer looking at the totality of the circumstance is required to determine the predominant aggressor, the individual who is the most significant, not necessarily the first, aggressor.

The Century Code is clear on the required actions once an officer has determined a crime involving domestic violence has occurred.

14-07.1-10. Arrest procedures.

1. If a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime involving domestic violence, whether the offense is a felony or misdemeanor, and whether or not the crime was committed in the presence of the officer, the law enforcement officer shall presume that arresting the person is the appropriate response.

2. A law enforcement officer investigating a crime involving domestic violence may not threaten, suggest, or otherwise indicate, for the purpose of discouraging requests for law enforcement intervention, that family or household members will be arrested. When complaints are received from two or more family or household members, the officer shall evaluate each complaint separately to determine if either party acted in self-defense as defined in section 12.1-05-03. If self-defense is not a factor, to determine whether to seek an arrest warrant or to pursue further investigation, the officer shall consider which party was the predominant aggressor by considering certain factors, including the comparative severity of injuries involved, any history of domestic violence, or any other violent acts that the officer can reasonably ascertain and the likelihood of future harm.

3. An individual arrested for a crime involving domestic violence may not be released on bail or on the individual's personal recognizance unless the individual has made a personal appearance before a magistrate pursuant to rule 5 of the North Dakota Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Under certain condition outlined in the domestic violence statute an officer can arrest the offender without having witnessed the crime if the officer establishes probable cause to believe a crime was committed.

14-07.1-11. Arrest without warrant.

1. A law enforcement officer shall arrest a person without a warrant if the person has committed the offense of violating a protection order under section 14-07.1-06, whether or not the violation was committed in the presence of the officer.

2. A law enforcement officer may arrest a person without a warrant if the arrest is made within twelve hours from the time the officer determines there is probable cause to arrest for an assault of a family or household member as defined in section 14-07.1-01, whether or not the assault took place in the presence of the officer. After twelve hours has elapsed, the officer must secure an arrest warrant before making an arrest. A law enforcement officer may not arrest a person pursuant to this subsection without first observing that there has been recent physical injury to, or impairment of physical condition of, the alleged victim.

3. A law enforcement officer may not be held criminally or civilly liable for making an arrest pursuant to this section if the officer acts in good faith on probable cause and without malice.

Acts of domestic violence are serious crimes which are, unfortunately, under reported. Victims fail to report for a wide variety of reasons to include cultural practices, economic instability, threats of future violence or the psychological control of the victim by the offender. Friends, families and co-workers elect not to report as they feel what goes on in the home is personal business between the victim and the abuser. The domestic violence continues until the victim can no longer rationalize not reporting the abuse or the victim has been somehow injured. But you can make a difference.

If you know someone who you suspect is being abused, refer them to the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, 701-293-7273 or your company's employee assistance program. The Rape and Abuse Crisis Center offers a 24-Hour crisis Line. Their services are free and confidential. You need to follow-up with the victim in a few days to see if they have made the contact to receive services. When you see signs of physical abuse or believe an act of domestic violence is presently occurring contact law enforcement immediately. No one deserves to be abused. Get involved to stop domestic violence.