A couple gets into a heated argument that turns physical and prompts one of them – or perhaps someone who sees it -– to call the police. It can be difficult for responding officers to determine who is the aggressor and who is the victim.
Florida law spells out what officers are required to do when responding to a domestic violence call. They have the option to arrest one person, more than one person or no one – depending on what they determine at the scene.
Multiple arrests are discouraged
The statute, however, states that if more than one person appears to have engaged in violence and/or there are mutual accusations, “[a}rrest is the preferred response only with respect to the primary aggressor and not the preferred response with respect to a person who acts in a reasonable manner to protect or defend oneself or another family or household member from domestic violence.”
If a couple has been fighting and it’s turned physical, officers can’t always know with certainty who was the aggressor and who was simply fighting back to defend themselves. They may misjudge the situation and arrest the wrong person.
Are other professionals better qualified to handle these situations?
Those who advocate for having professionals with mental health or social work training responding to these calls rather than armed police officers point to these situations where officers are expected to make a judgment that may be beyond their training – and could easily put an innocent person behind bars while leaving a violent person free to strike again.
As one law professor who deals with gender violence says, “Imagine a [situation] where the people who get called out don’t have the power to put anybody in jail but do have training and expertise in de-escalating conflict, accompanied by an expert in intimate partner violence. One can imagine services that are not defined necessarily by victim and offender, but by people who need help.”
The consequences of a conviction on a domestic violence-related charge can affect your life, career and even your ability to parent. Don’t try to navigate the justice system on your own.