It can’t be said enough: domestic assault is a huge problem in Minnesota.
In 2016 alone, 21 people in our state died due to domestic violence. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, either. When people die from domestic violence, they often leave behind children, parents, or friends who are asking themselves what could have been done to prevent this person’s death.
According to reports, seven children watched their mother die this year. That’s seven too many.
Two children, aged 10 and 13, died from domestic violence as they watched their father attempt to kill their mother. A bystander also lost their life while witnessing a domestic violence case.
Perhaps the scariest statistics, though, involve women who are killed by domestic violence. Every day, three women die from domestic violence in America, making it one of the top killers of women in our country. In Minnesota alone, domestic violence accounts for a staggering 80% of all female homicide victims.
How Minnesota Stacks Up – and How We Can Get Better
Our state doesn’t have the highest rates of domestic violence in the nation, but it definitely doesn’t have the lowest, either. The stat that has the “honor” of the highest average rate of one man killing one woman is South Carolina, at 2.32 women for every 100,000. In Minnesota, that rate is just under 2 for every 100,000 women, which puts us in the top 15 among states with the highest domestic violence rates.
After a while the numbers start to lose their meaning, but one thing is crystal clear: if our state hopes to improve, we need to make some changes. For the past decade or so, the policy of law enforcement in Minnesota has been to crack down on domestic violence by increasing the number of felony convictions and lengthening prison sentences for abusers.
Currently, domestic assault charges can be a misdemeanor or a felony. If you are charged with misdemeanor domestic assault, penalties include 90 days in jail and $1,000 in fines. Charges can be increased to felony domestic assault for aggravating factors like strangulation or the use of a deadly weapon. Felony domestic assault convictions may lead to three years in jail and $5,000 in fines.
Other penalties include the requirement to complete domestic violence education courses, or receive a no-contact order that keeps you from visiting or contacting the victim in your case. Also, whether you are convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, you will lose the right to bear arms. At any level, domestic assault takes away the ability to possess, buy, or use a firearm.
Additionally, if you have a criminal history, or you violate your protection order, keep in mind that the penalties for domestic assault and other violent crimes will be significantly higher.
All of which begs the question: is this “crackdown” method with more severe penalties actually working?
Are Strict Felony Sentences Working? The Answer Is Complicated
Mid-way through the year, we provided you with stories of women who had been killed due to domestic violence. Each of these chilling stories made headlines, and forced us to ask ourselves if our state was making the right moves to prevent domestic violence.
Over 1,500 people were given felony sentences for domestic assault or violence in 2013, a number over 500% higher than it was in 2003. Some areas of Minnesota, like Brooklyn Park, have seen favorable results from changes in state legislation and the ways that local law enforcement handle domestic violence claims.
Certainly, more felony convictions leads to more people behind bars who are unable to bring further harm to anyone. However, while stopping people from committing further acts of violence is commendable, what about preventing those initial acts from occurring in the first place? Far too many domestic violence cases still end in serious injury or death.
Moreover, statistics show us that sending people to jail doesn’t always keep them from committing violent crimes in the future. One in four perpetrators who committed domestic homicide in 2016 had a history of abuse, including serving time behind bars for domestic assault or related crimes.
Punishment often doesn’t stop abusers from abusing. That’s something that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the high number of abusers who were themselves victims of abuse at some point.
Perhaps a better route would be to offer more ways for those charged with or convicted of domestic violence to receive counseling and education so that they can understand the costs and repercussions of their actions and why they engage in that type of behavior in the first place.
Of course, that’s not an easy sell, and changes in that direction aren’t likely to come any time soon. In the meantime, Minnesota will continue to issue felony sentences and harsh penalties in an effort to curb domestic violence, so if you have been arrested or charged with domestic assault, you need to talk to an experienced Minnesota domestic violence lawyer immediately to start building a strong defense strategy.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).