Domestic violence is a topic that has received much publicity in recent months due to some highly visible incidents of spousal injury or death. As a result, the Speaker of the House, Chris Donovan, established a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Domestic Violence to make recommendations in an effort to prevent spousal abuse. I was fortunate to be appointed to the Legislature's Domestic Violence Task Force as State Representative from Bloomfield/Windsor, offering my perspective as an attorney who also practices Family Law.
Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-15 a family or household member who has been subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury by another family or household member or person, or who has recently been in a dating relationship also subject to a continuous threat of physical pain or injury may request that the Superior Court issue a Restraining Order preventing the perpetrator from threatening or assaulting the Applicant and from entering the family dwelling. The Restraining Order can be issued for up to six months and may be extended thereafter for an additional time as the Court deems appropriate.
Connecticut Restraining Orders also provide that any violation constitutes criminal trespass in the first degree punishable by a term of imprisonment not more than one year and a fine of not more than $2,000, or both. If the Applicant alleges an immediate and present physical danger, the Court may issue an ExParte Restraining Order. The Court must send the Restraining Order to the Police Department in the Town in which the Applicant lives and works. The Court may also require the spouse to turn over weapons and firearms. Failure to turn in your firearms within two business days is a Class D Felony.
In reviewing existing Connecticut law, the Domestic Violence Task Force made a number of recommendations which will be voted upon by the Legislature this Session.
One recommendation is to increase the penalty of violating a Restraining Order to a Class D Felony which would make the accused ineligible for the Family Violence Program so that jail time could not be avoided. An enhanced penalty may act as a deterrent and make the punishment more appropriate. It was also proposed that violent offenders be required to wear GPS bracelets to monitor their locations.
Another recommendation is to replace the threshold of "continuous threat" to a mere "threat". The Task Force also recommended that the Court system create Domestic Violence Dockets particularly in Criminal Courts to deal with the number and magnitude of such crimes. In Connecticut last year there were reportedly 50,000 incidents of Domestic Violence and one-third of the Criminal Court docket deals with domestic violence cases. By having dedicated dockets, Judges and Prosecutors can spend more time, identify potential domestic violence cases early on, and make such orders which might prevent tragedies from happening.
The Task Force further recommended that Shelters for abused parties be open 24/7 with appropriate funding to accomplish this goal. It was also recommended that the process for obtaining Restraining Orders be streamlined so that victims seeking Court assistance can navigate the process without getting mired down in the bureaucracy.
I have also introduced my own Bill which would allow an employer to apply for a Restraining Order when an employee who is subjected to domestic violence at their place of employment refuses to apply for a Restraining Order on his or her own behalf. This would allow the employer to make sure that his/her business and employees remained safe and prevent the perpetrator from doing harm to property. Approximately 10 other States permit an employer to obtain a Restraining Order under these conditions.
Another significant recommendation is to standardize Restraining Order and Protective Order forms under the National Program called PASSPORT. By doing so, other States can easily recognize a Connecticut Restraining Order and immediately enforce it.
Another recommendation also will require that weapons be turned over in a shorter period of time than the existing 48 hours required by Connecticut law.
Domestic Violence should not be tolerated as an acceptable way of life. Victims are urged to obtain immediate legal assistance. If you believe that you are a victim of domestic violence or any other type of abuse, you should immediately contact your local Police Department, Health Care Provider or Attorney to seek help. Always remember that it is better to vacate the family home if there is any sign of potential violence so as to not put yourself in a dangerous situation. Restraining Orders can be obtained from the Superior Court in the Family Division and if a crime has been committed, a Protective Order can be obtained from the Criminal Courts and Police Departments by filing a criminal complaint.
For more information, please contact Attorney David A. Baram.