KSLA Investigates: Louisiana lawmakers want state law to classify domestic abuse battery as a violent crime

KSLA Investigates: Louisiana lawmakers want state law to classify domestic abuse battery as a violent crime
Louisiana capitol
Louisiana capitol

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Louisiana is the third deadliest state in the country when it comes to men killing women, according to a recent report published by the Violence Policy Center.

This is the seventh consecutive year that Louisiana has ranked in the top 10 states for women being killed by men.

The report's findings show that in more than 90 percent of the cases, the women knew the male who killed them.

Mariah Wineski, executive director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says one reason Louisiana sits near the top of that list is the way state law classifies the crime of domestic abuse battery.

"What we know about domestic homicide is that it typically escalates to that point. So domestic violence doesn't start with a homicide. Typically, it starts small and escalates over time."

Often, Wineski says, the perpetrator has been arrested for domestic abuse battery multiple times in the past.

That crime is defined as the "intentional use of force or violence committed" by a family or household member, or dating partner, against another.

But unless the domestic abuser burns the victim, resulting in serious bodily injury, that attack is not considered a crime of violence under Louisiana law.

"If you used physical violence, if you hit them, slapped them or strangle them and it doesn't escalate to the point where a prosecutor can charge second-degree battery, for example, or aggravated assault, it's not a crime of violence."

Crimes of violence are offenses that carry stiffer penalties and calculations for "good time" release, cannot be expunged from a person's criminal record, require imprisonment for 65 percent of the sentence and carry more stringent probation requirements.

As Wineski points out, crimes of violence are designated as those that are particularly violent and serious, such as murder, rape, aggravated battery, sexual assault, kidnapping and home invasion.

Despite the phrase "intentional use of force or violence" being used in the definition of domestic abuse battery, it is not considered a violent offense in Louisiana.

"You've got purse snatching on that list, you've got carjacking on that list, and yet you can strangle your wife and not be on that list."

A third charge for domestic abuse battery resulting in a conviction raises the charge to a felony, carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.

A fourth conviction comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of 30 years behind bars.

Still, unless the victim is burned or otherwise seriously injured, inmates sentenced for this crime are not treated as violent offenders, meaning they can get out of prison earlier than other violent felons.

"Had no idea that was in there," said Larry Bagley, a Republican member of the Louisiana House of Representatives whose district covers parts of Caddo, DeSoto and Sabine parishes.

"I would just assume if you hit somebody in the face with your fist, which I know happens, that would be a violent act. Obviously, it's not."

KSLA Investigates discovered this omission in Louisiana law while examining a Department of Corrections list of inmates getting released from prison early under bipartisan criminal justice reforms signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

In fact, KSLA Investigates found two inmates getting released from Caddo Correctional Center in November, just two and a half months after their third convictions for domestic abuse battery.

"We can't accept that. No one wants to see their family member abused by their spouse," Bagley said after watching KSLA Investigates' original investigation on the issue.  "A third-time offender doesn't get the hint."

Bagley was not the only state representative shocked to learn from our reporting that domestic abuse battery is not on the crimes of violence list.

"I am surprised to understand that domestic abuse, in any level of consideration, is not considered to be a crime of violence," said state Rep. Cedric Glover, a Democrat representing a large portion of Caddo Parish.

"From my perspective, anything that involves something that is severe enough, profound enough, injurious enough to prevent you from being able to possess a weapon should, in fact, be a crime of violence," Glover says.

In the wake of KSLA Investigates' reporting, Bagley and Glover now are interested in finding a way to amend Louisiana law and expand the crimes of violence list to include domestic abuse battery.

"That's something I've spent the last couple of days, since receiving your initial email, getting caught up to speed on with staff down in Baton Rouge," said Bagley. "And it's something I certainly think warrants additional review."

"We would be looking at getting either second or third offense and subsequent offenses put onto this list of crimes of violence," says Wineski, who hopes to find at least one state lawmaker willing to sponsor legislation that would make that change a legal reality.

Bagley says he is interested in exploring such a bill when the Louisiana House of Representative goes back into session in March.

"A third-time offender doesn't get the hint. We can't accept that."

Wineski believes treating repeat domestic batterers as violent offenders will save countless lives in Louisiana because longer sentences give victims the time to break free of the fear and emotional toll that chronic domestic abuse takes on women.

It also allows them to find the services and assistance needed to survive when their attacker eventually is set free.

Glover says lawmakers in Baton Rouge who do not want to amend the crimes of violence list and add domestic abuse battery need to answer the question, "Why not?"

"There may be others who are part of the Legislature, as well as the legal and prosecutorial community, who may take a different perspective," Glover says. "But those are questions that will certainly be asked going forward."

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