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Scales of Justice

TWIN FALLS — Law enforcement and agencies that deal with domestic violence are reacting to an Idaho Supreme Court ruling earlier this month.

While the incident in the case of State v. Clarke had nothing to do with domestic violence, the ruling changes the way misdemeanor arrests must be handled.

The defendant in the case, Peter O’Donald Clarke, was charged in Kootenai County with possession of methamphetamine, marijuana and paraphernalia in August 2016. This came after he was arrested without a warrant for a misdemeanor offense the police officer did not see committed.

The Idaho Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Joel Horton and released June 12, ruled that the arrest violated Article I, section 17 of the Idaho Constitution, which “prohibits a warrantless arrest for a misdemeanor offense that occurred outside the presence of the arresting officer,” according to the Summary Statement of the case.

The Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged the confusion surrounding this decision. In an effort to reassure residents, a statement was posted on the department’s Facebook page, reading, “This ruling only impacts arrest procedures for misdemeanor cases in which the officer did not witness the crime. Our deputies will continue to respond to all calls, investigate and take reports, and make arrests when applicable.”

The post then directly addresses the implications of the ruling in regard to domestic violence incidents.

“In the event of domestic violence or battery cases where we are not able to make an immediate arrest, we will work with the victim(s) to find resources and formulate a safety plan, until an arrest warrant can be obtained.”

The Twin Falls Police Department is also addressing the ramifications of the ruling. Chief Craig Kingsbury already has the department working with the Twin Falls County Prosecutor’s office and the Twin Falls City Prosecutor’s office to make appropriate adjustments.

“We have changed our policy to comply with the ruling,” Kingsbury said. “Our primary concern is domestic violence cases and violations of no contact orders.”

Kingsbury predicts the change will place an additional burden on police officers, courts and attorneys, as urgent cases require calls at all hours to obtain the necessary warrant to make an arrest.

“We will continue to vigorously enforce the law” to ensure the safety of victims, he said.

Lori Stewart, who serves as victims’ assistance coordinator for the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office, anticipates a huge impact on domestic violence and protection order violations in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

“If law enforcement is unable to make an arrest, the victim may be in danger,” Stewart said. “Where does the victim go for the night to stay safe? What about the children?”

Stewart sees where the inability for law enforcement officers to arrest a suspected abuser will tax the system of advocacy agencies and their budgets.

Donna Graybill, executive director of Voices Against Violence, agreed.

The biggest fear, which Graybill hopes does not come to fruition, is when a domestic violence victim calls law enforcement but, when officers arrive, the abuser cannot be removed because the officers did not see the abuse.

“That’s the catastrophic scenario,” she said.

While it would be possible for officers to remain at the scene until the victim gathers belongings and leaves for someplace safe, Graybill doesn’t believe that’s a reasonable option.

“Is it entirely fair for a survivor to leave her home, and the abuser gets to stay?” she asked.

Voices Against Violence has an emergency 24-hour hotline and offers emergency shelter in Twin Falls for domestic violence victims.

“As a crisis organization, we are prepared for crises. We have people in place to respond,” Graybill said.

“My hope for our community is that local judges and law enforcement will work together to identify an efficient system to obtain warrants in a timely manner and continue to protect victims to the standard we have come to rely on.”

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