Arizona Senate Passes Bills to Expand Definition of Domestic Violence

Arizona law does not categorize domestic violence as a separate crime on a first offense; it does provide for the charge of “aggravated domestic violence” for those who commit certain offenses more than once. While new legislation passed in March does not change the lack of additional penalties for first-time offenders, it does expand the types of crimes that can be included to trigger the two-strikes rule regarding aggravated domestic violence. Penalties for aggravated domestic violence depend on the age of the victim and the severity of the crime.

Currently, Arizona law classifies domestic violence to include murder or sexual assault of a minor under 15, endangerment, threatening or intimidating behavior, harassment, stalking, child abuse and adult abuse. Senate Bill 1087 adds sexual assault, animal cruelty (injury or killing of the victim’s pets), manslaughter, murder and preventing someone from using a telephone in an emergency situation to the list of offenses that can start the process toward an aggravated domestic violence charge. The crimes must be committed against a domestic partner or family member to qualify.

In addition, Senate Bill 1086 classifies the choking of a family member or domestic partner as aggravated assault, a class-4 felony, which carries a two and a half-year prison sentence. This harsh penalty may be a result of a telling statistic found in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. Nearly half of women who are murdered or are the victims of attempted murder were choked at some point during the prior year by their male partners.

According to a 1992 American Medical Association report, one in three American women report being physically assaulted or raped by a current or former domestic partner. In Arizona, groups such as the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence have lobbied the legislature to change the law on domestic violence. These laws would penalize more types of conduct more harshly.