Have you heard the news? The person elected the Sheriff of San Francisco, Ross Mirkarimi, is under investigation for domestic violence. Mr. Mirkarimi was previously an investigator at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. He has been on the Board of Supervisors for seven years.
According to the news reports, the police reported to the Mirkarimi home on New Year’s Eve weekend in response to a 911 call by a neighbor after Mirkarimi and his wife had had a heated argument.
In the past calls for help by domestic violence victims were not taken seriously. A woman could be violently assaulted by her husband, and the attitude of law enforcement would be a man’s house is his castle.
But now I fear that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Loads of domestic violence cases get dismissed because they’re frivolous (after the defendant has paid an attorney). Mischievous jilted lovers call the police just to get back at their significant others. Then there are cases in which the victim has suffered no injury, yes, no injury, or the purported injury of redness.
This last class of cases are the kind that get jurors of every age, income level, and background asking themselves “Why am I here?” or, “You mean I have to convict someone of this?”
Police and prosecutors feel powerless to choose more carefully whom to prosecute. A section of the Penal Code devoted to domestic violence requires law enforcement agencies to promulgate written policies relating to domestic violence. “The written policies shall encourage the arrest of domestic violence offenders if there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed.” “These policies shall discourage, when appropriate, but not prohibit, dual arrests.” With policies like these out there, police officers are understandably reluctant to let alleged domestic violence offenders go, even when the accusations against them seem false. And with the policy of only taking into custody one combatant, guess who is bound to be arrested? You guessed it, the man.
There are serious domestic violence cases. But DAs, law enforcement officers, and judges should have the courage to exercise discretion in individual cases, without the added pressure of feeling that something monumental hangs in the balance.