A Crime Of Violence: KSLA investigative reports help shape life-saving domestic abuse legislation

"Crime of Violence" legislation a signature away from being law
(Source: KSLA News 12)
(Source: KSLA News 12)

BATON ROUGE, LA (KSLA) - Right now, for every 100,000 women living in Louisiana, 2.2 will be murdered by men, according to a recent report by the Violence Policy Center in Washington D.C.

That homicide rate is more than double the national average, and it's a number that has increased every year in Louisiana since 2011, ranking the Pelican State third in the nation for the rate of women murdered by men.

"We rank third in the nation for the rate of women who are murdered by men," said Mariah Wineski, Executive Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "Of course, the large majority of those are domestic homicides."

According to Wineski, and other domestic violence advocates contacted, a large majority of men committing domestic homicide, are serial abusers, with multiple convictions of domestic abuse battery on their criminal records.

"The thing about domestic violence is it doesn't start with a homicide," Wineski said. "It starts small and it escalates over time."

Under Louisiana law, domestic abuse battery is defined as the “intentional use of force or violence committed” by a family or household member, or dating partner, against another.

But that crime does not rise to a felony until the perpetrator is charged with domestic assault battery and convicted for the third time.

"Part of why our homicide rate is so high in Louisiana, is that we fail to hold offenders accountable for those early instances of domestic batteries and therefore it escalates to a homicide before we hold them accountable," Wineski said.

In October of 2017, just before a set of new laws took effect, granting nearly 2,000 inmates early release, several prisoners serving felony sentences for domestic abuse battery, would soon walk free from state lock-up due to a loophole in state law.

The mass release of prisoners was part of criminal justice reforms, signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards last summer, designed to save money and reduce Louisiana's prison population is the highest in the nation, by shortening the sentences of certain non-violent, non-sex offenders.

Because domestic abuse battery is not considered a violent offense in Louisiana unless the victim is burned and seriously injured, An investigation by KSLA showed that a patchwork quilt of state law, some new others old, that were potentially shortening the prison sentences of some violent, serial domestic abusers.

Showing the results of our investigation members of the Louisiana House of Representatives, KSLA Investigates recently learned that multiple lawmakers pre-filed bills to close that loophole, and better protect victims of domestic abuse.

"The reporting that KSLA did, brought this issue to my attention and some other members of the legislature, which I am very thankful for," said Representative Cedric Glover, a Democrat from Shreveport.  "Now we are working to fix the problem, and that's by amending the state laws that were put in place and close those loopholes, and ultimately save lives."

The new legislation proposed by Representative Glover, and another bill introduced by Democrat Representative Pat Smith of Baton Rouge, would add domestic abuse battery to the Louisiana "Crimes of Violence" list.

Crimes of violence are offenses that cannot be expunged from a person’s criminal record, carry stiffer penalties and more stringent probation requirements, make it harder to earn “good time” and require the convicted criminal to serve at least 65 percent of their sentence.

"When you look at the fact that we have folks out there who are obviously vulnerable, who are abused, taken advantage of, we need to make sure we are in a position to effectively protect those folks under all circumstances," Glover said. "And that's what this bill seeks to do."

Saying KSLA's original reporting is shining a major light on this issue and helping educate lawmakers in Baton Rogue, Wineski fears bills proposing to close the domestic abuse battery gap in Louisiana law could get watered down unless more lawmakers realize this is truly a life-saving matter.

"We have got to get to a point in Louisiana where we are taking domestic violence seriously," Wineski said, "Until we get to that point, we are going to continue to see homicide rates that are astronomical in our state."

The new state legislative session begins Monday, March 12.

KSLA Investigates will be reporting from Baton Rouge as these proposed bills make their way through the committee hearing and onto the floor of the State House of Representatives and Senate.

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