Mandatory Arrest Laws


Mandatory arrest laws have been implemented around the country in an effort to reduce domestic violence. They require police to arrest the alleged attacker regardless of the victim's wishes. These laws aim to protect victims by removing them from immediate danger and forcing the police to take action. While some research has indicated that they can prevent repeat offenses, opponents say the laws are ineffective and even unfair, resulting in too many unjustified arrests and cases where both partners are hauled to jail.


  • Mandatory arrest laws became popular nationwide as a result of the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment, a 1982 study that said arrest is a more effective means of preventing domestic violence than separating the people for several hours or trying to talk them through their problem.

    According to a Plattsburgh State University report for the federal Department of Justice, mandatory arrest laws are founded on the idea that victims of abuse are too fearful of their attackers to speak for themselves. The police act on their behalf, removing the victim from immediate danger and leaving the impression that the arrest was the legally required action of the police--not the choice of the victim.

Variances In State Law

  • According to the United States Department of Justice, 22 states and Washington, D.C., have adopted mandatory arrest laws as of September 2009. The laws require police to make an arrest if the incident meets certain conditions -- some involving time, some the nature of the offense, and some the relationship of the people.

    These vary greatly from state to state. In Colorado, for example, an officer needs probable cause that domestic violence occurred, and the law covers only current or former spouses, people who live together or people who have a child in common.

    In Rhode Island, mandatory arrest requires probable cause to believe that there had been a felonious assault, an attack that caused injury, or action meant to cause fear of serious and immediate injury or death.

Early Research

  • According to UCLA researcher Linda G. Mills, a 1984 study, the first major analysis of mandatory-arrest laws, showed promise that the policies would work. The study analyzed more than 300 domestic-violence cases and showed that showed that mandatory arrest deterred repeat attacks better than police splitting the couple up or trying to talk the offender and victim through the problem. Offenders with good ties to the community were likely to be embarrassed by arrest and careful not to re-offend; those without those ties were not.


  • Further research questions the effectiveness of mandatory arrest. In an article on the law-enforcement website, researcher Richard Davis summarizes the criticism. He states that mandatory arrest is based on a false premise that police do not care about domestic violence, and that it is a "one-size-fits-all" approach to a problem whose causes vary by situation. Davis, an advocate for victims of domestic abuse, also says the laws result in the arrest of many minor offenders while failing to result in the conviction and imprisonment of major offenders.


  • According to Mills' report, mandatory arrest has protected battered women who cannot make good decisions about their attackers. But it also states that allowing women to choose whether to have their attackers arrested and prosecuted not only gives them a sense of empowerment, it may also help prevent repeat attacks.


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