Nashville Today: Bill would mandate 12-hour hold in domestic violence cases

Acquire DigitalNews

Tennessee has the ominous distinction of being in the top 10 worst states for domestic violence. In Davidson County, someone is the victim of domestic violence every 20 minutes.

State law currently requires a 12-hour “cooling off” period for those accused of perpetrating a crime against a domestic partner or spouse but judicial discretion means that requirement is often waived if the accused is determined not to be a continued threat to the victim. A new proposed law, sponsored by State Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) and Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, seeks to close the loophole.

S.B. 610/H.B. 41would make a 12-hour hold mandatory for people accused of domestic violence. Dickerson, who represents the 20th District, said he believes this will assure a victim of domestic violence that he or she absolutely has a 12-hour window to seek safety.

Dickerson, an anesthesiologist, said he believes the matter is an issue of public health and believes that it is his duty as a medical professional and as a lawmaker to address it.

“I can’t adequately describe the gravity of this problem,” he said, recalling conversations with friends who volunteer in victims’ shelters. “If I can’t do something to help victims of these crimes, I’m in the wrong line of work.”

The bill comes after a case last year involving a domestic violence allegation against local real estate developer David Chase. The suspect, who was arrested after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, was released after a few hours and returned home where he allegedly assaulted the victim again, choking her unconscious. The presiding judge in that case, Davidson County Judge Casey Moreland, was later reprimanded.

The Chase case was fairly typical as domestic violence arrests are often a “trigger event” for repeat offenses after defendants are released from custody. Dickerson said that the holding period would allow victims enough time to get to a safe place.

“I see this bill as a hammer to chip away at the problem,” he explained, noting that an arrest often triggers subsequent violent incidents. “If one person is helped, it’s worth it.”

The Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System (TIBRS) program recorded 247,069 reports of domestic violence offenses from 2011-2013, the most recent reporvailable. More than 70 percent of victims were women. Dickerson is careful to point out though, that women are not the only victims—and men aren’t the only perpetrators.

While he isn’t aware of substantive opposition, Dickerson said he understands concerns about the potential impact on the falsely accused. He said he’s open to amending the proposed legislation in order to build consensus but only if changes were consistent with the spirit of the bill.

Dickerson recognizes that a mandatory holding period won’t quell incidents of domestic violence. He does believe it is a step in the right direction and hopes that co-sponsoring this legislation will help bring about needed attention.

“Sunlight is a great disinfectant,” he said.

The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee but has not been placed on that committee’s calendar. The companion bill will be heard in the House Criminal Justice Committee at a later date.