Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam wants to solve the state’s domestic violence problem. His proposal: mandatory incarceration of repeat domestic violence offenders. A repeat offender bill that would make this happen is one of the measures included in the governor’s recent comprehensive safety plan. The proposed legislation would mandate a minimum of 45 days in jail for a defendant’s second domestic violence conviction and 120 days after a third or subsequent conviction; a House version of the proposal currently calls for 30 days in jail for a second domestic violence conviction and 90 days for three or more.
Domestic Violence Statistics
To demonstrate the severity of domestic violence in Tennessee, Gov. Haslam pointed to statistics showing that Tennessee’s rate of women killed by men is fifth-highest nationally. Tennessee police and prosecutors say domestic violence accounts for more than half of all reported crimes in the state, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Total domestic violence incidents in Tennessee gradually increased from 2001 until 2010, the most recent year for which data is available. In 2010, domestic violence incidents decreased slightly overall, but domestic rape and assault incidents were at their highest levels in over 10 years.
Mandatory Sentences Debated
Opponents of the proposed legislation cite research finding a lack of evidence that mandatory jail time will have a deterrent effect on domestic violence offenders, according to the Tennessean. Other critics think incarceration alone cannot solve prevent most domestic violence; instead, programs like court-ordered batterer intervention services should complement mandatory jail sentences to change offenders’ behavior patterns.
The maximum penalty for domestic abuse, classified as a Class A Misdemeanor, is currently 11 months and 29 days. The sentence imposed depends on the circumstances of the case, as well as the defendant’s criminal history. A defendant convicted of domestic abuse for the first time is likely to be put on probation as well, and generally will be ordered to participate in counseling as a condition of probation.
Those who have been charged with a domestic violence crime should seek legal representation by a skilled criminal defense attorney who can aggressively defend them and seek to have charges reduced or dropped.