Panel wants to help victims
State crime commission looks at expanding rules on protective orders
Date published: 12/9/2010
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
–The Virginia Crime Commission is recommending that the state loosen its requirements for how victims can get protective orders.
The commission voted yesterday to support legislation that would let people in dating relationships, people suffering workplace violence and others get a stalking protective order against the alleged perpetrator.
As the law stands now, to get a protective order for stalking, the victim must also take out a warrant, and there is a requirement of two incidents in which the person was threatened.
The commission recommended removing the requirements for a warrant and for two incidents.
Such a change would have to be put in the form of a bill, and approved by the General Assembly in its upcoming session, which begins in January.
The review of protective orders gained attention after the death of University of Virginia student Yeardley Love earlier this year, allegedly at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.
Virginia law allows protective orders for family or household members–language that doesn’t include people in dating relationships. People seeking a protective order against someone to whom they’re not related can seek a protective order for stalking, but it’s more difficult and requires them to take out a warrant.
Lawmakers tried to figure out how to give more protections to people who are in dating relationships but not cohabiting or married, without making the statute too broad.
In the end, they decided not to try to define dating relationships at all.
The commission’s legal adviser, Steve Benjamin, said such relationships would be too difficult to define.
“That would be hugely entertaining, but what a colossal waste of time. You just can’t do it,” Benjamin said.
Instead, the commission decided to focus on defining the behavior of the perpetrator that would qualify for a protective order, not the relationship between perpetrator and victim.
Under the recommended change, a victim could take out a protective order if they were in reasonable fear of death or assault.
“It’s a pretty significant change,” said Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle.
At any one time in Virginia, there are 520 emergency protective orders, 1,900 preliminary protective orders and 15,000 final protective orders in effect, according to a report given to the commission last month.
Forty-two other states have some protection for dating relationships in their laws.
The commission also recommended increased penalties for violating protective orders to make them equal to those for violating family protective orders.
In another matter, the commission decided against recommending that the state spell out in the code procedures by which police should conduct lineups.
But the commission does want the state Department of Criminal Justice Services to develop mandatory training for officers who regularly conduct lineups.
A bill submitted in the 2010 session would have required police around the state to use sequential lineups, in which witnesses are shown one picture at a time of potential suspects. Current state policy encourages, but does not require, the use of sequential lineups.
According to the Innocence Project–an organization that attempts to exonerate wrongly convicted defendants and reform police policies–research indicates that in traditional lineups, grouping potential suspects together, witnesses tend to compare the people in the lineup with each other and choose the one who looks most like the perpetrator, rather than comparing each person with the witness’s own memory.
The crime commission’s staff did a survey of Virginia’s law enforcement agencies and found that at least 25 percent of agencies don’t have a written lineup policy, and just over half use the sequential lineup all the time.
That angered commission chairwoman Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, who said the commission spent a lot of time studying this issue in 2006, and law enforcement agencies then were instructed to develop lineup policies.
“At this point, my patience is stretched farther than I want it to go, so I will be voting for this,” Howell said.
Other commission members did not want to spell out a specific procedure in state law, for fear of giving defense attorneys ammunition if police didn’t adhere strictly to the procedure.
“We should be very careful about dictating procedures and policies to the law enforcement,” said Del. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond.
The commission will instead recommend mandatory lineup training for police. It also agreed to recommend that the DCJS do an audit of policies and report back to the crime commission next year.
Also yesterday, commission members recommended changing rules for high-speed police pursuits.
The commission voted to support requiring police involved in a pursuit to either use their lights and sirens when going through intersections, or come to a complete stop at stoplights and stop signs.
The commission also recommended requiring pursuit and driving training for police who do vehicle patrols, and voted to support a law that would make the vehicle of someone convicted of eluding police subject to forfeiture.
Chelyen Davis: 804-/502-5002 cdavis@