are particularly gratified by the work of the 2000 Legislative session,
which passed three key bills to improve the safety, health, and lives
of victims of domestic violence," said Carol Gundlach, executive
director of the ACADV. "These bills show that Alabama is responding to
the issues of domestic violence in ways that will provide important
protection to victims and their children."
Violence As a Crime bill
Alabama was the 26th
state in the nation to pass legislation naming domestic violence as a
separate crime under the criminal code. The "Domestic Violence as a
Crime Bill," defines misdemeanor and felony domestic violence crimes,
stiffens the penalties for repeat offenders, and doubles the sentences
of abusers who also violate a victim's Protection From Abuse order. A
Protection from Abuse order is a temporary restraining order that
provides a domestic violence victim with legal protection from an
In the past, domestic
violence crimes were charged under general assault and harassment laws,
and prosecuted as such. The new law recognizes that domestic violence
is a crime that needs to be identified, to give a clear message to
abusers that battering your partner is a crime, and is punishable by
the state, not the victim. The level of charges and potential penalties
are now more serious for domestic violence offenses. For example,
'harassment' under the criminal code is a class C misdemeanor, with a
maximum penalty of 3 months. Under the new law, harassment charged as
domestic violence is a class A misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to one
year. The new law recognizes the dangerous severity of domestic
violence crimes, which generally become more aggressive and frequent
over time, by naming higher mandatory minimum penalties for repeat
offenders, and for offenders who violate a protection order while
committing those crimes.
The law also provides
additional protection for victims by requiring law enforcement
officials to determine the primary aggressor in a domestic violence
incident. In the past, there have been a number of dual arrests in
Alabama in domestic violence cases, where both the victim and the
abuser are arrested for the crime. For the victim, this means not
getting needed victim services, and getting a criminal record, which
will effect custody and employment issues. The law enforcement officer
is to consider previous complaints, relative severity of the injuries,
and whether one person acted in self-defense.
bill also requires law enforcement officers not to discourage future
calls by threatening to arrest everyone, and not to consider the
victim's possible participation in court proceedings in making arrests.
[A summary of
new law is part of the curriculum in the Law Enforcement Training
program begun by the ACADV this summer, through a grant funded by
Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs-Law Enforcement
Division. Training has been conducted around the state to more than 18
law enforcement agencies since June; more than 20 additional agencies
have requested training, which should continue this year. The new law
and related training will give law enforcement officers the tools they
need to effectively intervene earlier in domestic violence cases.
see the training of law enforcement officers as a key to the successful
enactment of this law, and the safety of victims of domestic violence,"
said Gundlach. "Statistics show that a victim has on the average five
contacts with law enforcement before a domestic violence murder
occurs," she said.
The curriculum was designed with law enforcement
participation, and the training is conducted by seasoned veterans of
law enforcement forces in the state who have been on the 'front lines'
in domestic violence crimes, Gundlach said. "The training officers
understand the dynamics of law enforcement, and at the same time have
experience with and compassion for victims of domestic violence crimes
and their children."
The curriculum includes determining the primary
aggressor in domestic violence crimes, crime scene investigation, and
enforcing the provisions of a PFA order. Law enforcement officials also
learn about the dynamics of domestic violence and community resources
from the local shelter program.
The Holding Period Bill, which went into effect
August 1, provides a "cooling off period" in jail for offenders
arrested for domestic violence crimes. Recognizing the potential
lethality of domestic violence, the Legislature passed the bill
requiring an arrested abuser to be denied bail until a hearing is held
before a judge or magistrate. If the hearing is not held in 12 hours, a
bail can be set.
In the past, an offender could post bail just
hours or less after an arrest. The abuser was then free to track down
his victim and abuse again, before the victim had an opportunity to
find safe haven in a shelter program, or with family and friends.
"In too many cases, there are further assaults
and even homicides when the abuser returns home to discover his victim
trying to escape," said Gundlach.
During the hearing, the judge or magistrate can
further protect the victim by naming certain conditions on the bail
that limit the offender's contact with the victim. These provisions can
include prohibiting the offender from threatening, communicating with
or having any contact with the victim, and ordering him to stay away
from the victim at home, work or school. The batterer can be arrested
for violating the conditions of bail release.
summary of the law.]
Abuse Insurance Protection Act
The Domestic Abuse Insurance Protection Act, which
went into effect August 1, makes Alabama one of only 32 states which
have prohibited insurance discrimination against victims of domestic
violence. Abusers often seriously injure their partners, who then
require medical treatment. Abusers also damage the victim's property,
particularly items she values personally, and items she needs to
support herself and her children including her home, car, books, work
tools, and clothing
In the past, insurance companies have often denied
insurance claims resulting from domestic violence, or canceled
insurance of a victim who filed a claim on medical injuries or property
damage caused by her abusive partner.
The new law makes it illegal for insurance
providers to use a person's status as a domestic violence victim to
deny insurance or deny coverage for injuries and damages suffered from
the hands of an abusive partner. It also makes provision for victims to
continue the insurance policy after separating from the abuser.
summary of the law.]
The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence
serves victims of domestic violence and their families through agency
training, educational outreach, and public policy work, and through its
18-member shelter programs and 24-hour domestic violence crisis line,