Christopher Mosher, 42, of Litchfield didn’t dispute his domestic violence conviction for a 2011 assault. He appealed his sentence, though, because it included the completion of a certified batterers’ intervention program. If he had been a woman, he argued, he would not have received the sentence — because Maine does not have certified batterers’ intervention programs for women.
The court case came before the Maine Department of Corrections sought legislative approval for gender-neutral certification standards for batterers’ intervention programs. Though the new standards had been proposed for several years, they had not been adopted because of a number of missed deadlines, according to a former victim services coordinator with the department who testified in Kennebec County Superior Court on Feb. 1. The new language for certifications requirements would not specify a sex.
The Legislature should correct past mistakes and approve the new rules as soon as possible.
It’s already too late. On March 15, after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case to his court, Deputy Chief Judge Robert Mullen struck the requirement that Mosher complete a batterers’ intervention program. In his order, he wrote, “Authorizing a court to require a male to attend a certified batterer’s intervention program as a condition of probation while not authorizing such a condition of probation for a female clearly punishes the male more severely than the female for the same offense.”
Equal protection is guaranteed under the state and federal constitutions, and, as Mullen put it, “Any classifications based on gender must have legitimate objectives that are substantially related to the statute’s/rule’s purpose.” The state has three batterers’ programs for women, according to the court order, but they are not certified. If women were to attend one of the certified programs for men, the program would be notified it was violating the standards, and its certification could be revoked.
Domestic violence is a scourge overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, but punishing men more than women for the same crime does not solve the problem. The court decision is clearly the right one; and the corrections department and domestic violence prevention advocates had already been working to change the standards. But the court decision creates a problem: Without standards for certified batterers’ intervention programs for women, the current mandate is invalid, and men can’t be referred to the programs.
That’s a good reason for the Maine Legislature to approve — and soon — LD 1237, “Resolve, Directing the Department of Corrections to Amend Its Rules Pertaining to Certification of Batterer Intervention Programs,” proposed by Gov. Paul LePage and sponsored by Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono. It has bipartisan support; the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee gave it a unanimous “ought to pass” endorsement March 27; and any costs to adopt the rules will be absorbed by the corrections department.
As an “emergency” measure, the bill requires two-thirds majority support to take effect immediately. It should receive that level of support.
In 2012, 1,316 men were placed on probation for domestic violence offenses, and nearly a third of them — 374 — were required to participate in an intervention program. Meanwhile, 201 women — about 13 percent of offenders — were placed on probation for committing domestic violence. But just because the large majority of offenders are male does not mean they should be given different sentences than women. It’s time to pass LD 1237, so intervention programs can pass constitutional muster.