As domestic violence advocates lower their flags in memory of Minnesota’s 15th domestic violence homicide victim in 2015, residents and law officials are again reminded of the alarming epidemic that continues to plague Minnesota communities. The state’s third intimate-partner murder victim in just three weeks, 45-year old Elizabeth Gregg was found deceased, lying in a tent that she shared with her domestic partner Dwayne Case, 29. Case was reportedly found lying next to the victim as he suffered from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face. He had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence just months earlier, and now faces charges of second degree murder in connection with Gregg’s death.
While five domestic violence related deaths in three weeks, and fifteen in an eight month period may seem astonishingly high on its own, when compared with the approximately 1,500 domestic violence abusers that were convicted of felonies in 2013 alone (up from 229 a decade earlier), the community begins to realize that sadly, an approximate ratio of 1 per 100 known felony domestic violence crimes end in death. This realization has resulted in the community becoming more eager to convict domestic abuse defendants in order to protect innocent victims. According to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, Minnesota Judges sent approximately 44 defendants to prison for domestic violence related crimes in 2003, with that number soaring to an alarming 315 by 2013.
While harsher domestic violence laws and the diligence of law enforcement officers, Minneapolis lawyers, and domestic violence advocates have helped to ensure that more of the guilty are landing in prison, it is important to remember that not everyone who is charged with a domestic violence crime is actually guilty. The accused innocent who are not properly represented by a Minneapolis felony lawyer experienced with domestic violence cases could quickly find themselves facing felony convictions that result in extensive prison time.
Changes in Domestic Violence Laws and the Rise in Felony Convictions
Dramatic changes in the laws regarding domestic violence cases are partly responsible for the increase in domestic abuse related felony convictions throughout the past decade. A few of the changes that have taken place in the last few years include:
- 2007: DANCO (Domestic Abuse No Contact Order) was created. This type of no contact order is different from no contact orders that are issued at the petitioner’s request through the civil court. DANCO is an order that is issued against the criminal defendant by the judge. Those convicted of a violation of a DANCO can face even more serious charges than those they were initially facing, and multiple violations or violations that include possession of a weapon can result in felony conviction.
- 2006: The time limit for prior convictions that could be considered was increased to 10 years. Additionally, the convictions were no longer required to be committed against the same victim in order to qualify as an escalating offense, and the list of prior misdemeanors that could result in a felony was expanded.
- 2005: Domestic abuse by strangulation, previously a misdemeanor, was categorized as a felony crime.
Other Factors that May Be Affecting the Rise
Changes in domestic violence laws in Minnesota may not be the only factors that are related to the rise in felony domestic violence convictions. Numerous Minnesota communities are vamping up the way they deal with domestic violence cases. Brooklyn Park, for instance has replaced their city prosecutor and a number of domestic violence advocates in order to turn things around resulting in a domestic violence related felony conviction rate of approximately 69%. Additionally, Anoka County has implemented the use of a new lethality assessment that assesses the victim’s safety at the scene of the call and gets victims in touch with advocates when the need arises.
While these and a wide variety of other newly implemented procedures are designed to protect domestic violence victims from harm, and have proven to be successful in many cases, the system often backfires resulting in the innocent being charged and wrongfully convicted. The community’s newfound perseverance in their pursuit to reduce the number of domestic violence related crimes has made it extremely difficult for the wrongfully accused to prove their innocence. Not only is the person who initially reports abuse given the benefit of the doubt in most cases while the accused is often isolated, if the alleged victim experiences a change of heart and decides to drop the charges, he or she is unable to do so in the state of Minnesota.
A domestic violence charge that results in a felony conviction can have serious consequences including extensive fines, jail or prison time, and even the loss of the accused’s ability to own a firearm. It is therefore vital that persons who are facing felony domestic violence charges seek the assistance of an experienced Minneapolis felony lawyer.