AUGUSTA, Maine — Two York County women on Monday told members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Policy Committee that they were not notified by police or jail officials when their abusers were released from custody.
“My neighbor told me she had seen him drive by my home,” one said. “I explained that he was in jail and that I would be notified before he was released. [Four days later], he drove past me and he was laughing and staring at me. I had this wave of sheer terror and anger for the system failing me yet again.”
Both women urged committee members to recommend that the Legislature pass a bill which would require that victims of domestic violence or stalking be notified immediately when their accused attackers or stalkers were released from jail.
The second woman urged authorities to go further and jail without bail defendants who violate protection from abuse orders. She said her ex-husband was arrested for violating her order six times and was released each time after posting $100 bail.
“Unfortunately, I think of my protection from abuse order as just a piece of paper,” she said. “It really hasn’t done the job, or should I say, the authorities haven’t done their jobs. One violation should equal jail time — period. No changes. No warnings. Too many women, and in some cases children, have died because these men have been let out on bail or are not monitored. Enough is enough.”
Both women declined to identify themselves for fear of reprisal from their former male domestic partners.
When the committee broke for lunch, lawmakers surrounded the two outside the committee room to thank them for their testimony.
No one opposed LD 1760, which was one of three bills concerning domestic violence the committee held public hearings on Monday.
Several groups, including the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, opposed LD 1704, a bill that would require judges rather than bail commissioners to set bail for defendants charged with crimes of domestic violence.
Lawmakers appeared to feel that a policy announced last week by Leigh I. Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, could lead to better decisions being made when bail is set in domestic violence cases. Saufley said that as of this past Friday, bail commissioners could not set bail in such cases unless they had a Maine criminal history of the defendant.
Obtaining criminal history information has been difficult in the past for bail commissioners, Saufley said in her annual State of the Judiciary address.
LD 1704 also calls for electronic monitoring of some defendants. The ankle bracelet would include a global positioning device that would indirectly, through police or dispatch centers, alert the victim if the defendant came within a certain range of the victim. Those wearing the devices would be responsible for paying for them, according to the bill.
The cost of the type of electronic monitoring outlined in the bill had not been determined by Monday’s hearing.
The third bill, LD 1711, considered Monday would mandate the use of a standardized risk assessment in the management of domestic violence crimes.
The legislation comes in the aftermath of the triple murder of Amy Lake and her children by her husband and the children’s father, Steven Lake, on June 13 in Dexter, Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, noted.
“The events last year in Dexter show how domestic violence can rock communities, destroy lives, and forever scar our state,” she told the committee in support of LD 1711. “While Maine has one of the lowest murder rates in the nation, year after year, over half of those murders are directly related to domestic violence.”
The bill would require the use of validated, evidence-based domestic violence risk assessment by law enforcement officers in cases involving suspected or alleged domestic violence or abuse. The 13-question assessment, called the Ontario Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment, or, ODARA, is being used by some law enforcement agencies in Maine, including the Saco Police Department.
“ODARA assessments are conducted by the investigating officers, on scene, at first contact with the victim,” TammyJo Girard, court officer for the Saco police, told the committee. “ODARA is a series of 13 yes or no questions. Some questions are asked of the victim; others, officers are able to answer themselves based on their on-scene investigation and criminal history checks.”
High scores on the assessment indicate that a defendant is likely to re-offend, according to Girard. Bail commissioners, prosecutors and judges in York County use the ODARA along with details of the incident to help determine appropriate bail, conditions of release and sentences, she said.
“ODARA not only helps identify priority domestic violence cases and plan resources accordingly, but it also provides a simple impartial score that can be used by all stakeholders of domestic violence,” Girard told the committee. “Because it is not subjective, the score has the same meaning from entity to entity and allows us to all recognize high-risk cases that we can work collectively toward better victim safety and greater offender accountability.”
She said administering the questions takes officers in her department between five and 10 minutes.
If passed, the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015. That would allow training in the use of the ODARA form to be completed throughout the state and at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro.
Gov. Paul LePage, who has made domestic violence a priority for his administration, is scheduled to announce his own initiatives Feb. 22 at the Blaine House. His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett ,said Monday that they would not conflict with bills that have been submitted by lawmakers.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to hold work sessions on LDs 1704, 1711 and 1760 on Feb. 23.