Lawmakers look at revising Wyoming domestic violence laws
By ASHLEIGH FOX
Jan. 16, 2018
SHERIDAN, Wyo. (AP) — How many chances does a domestic violence perpetrator receive in a lifetime?
The Wyoming Legislature took a fresh approach to reform of domestic violence laws, including researching over the interim and working to take a more holistic view of the laws.
Advocacy and Resource Center executive director Yvonne Swanson said the revisions are a huge step forward and she appreciates the work done by legislators.
"We're excited to see what the future holds with all of this," Swanson said. "We appreciate that they're looking at it as something important."
While in the past, changes to domestic violence laws have often come on the heels of a tragic story presented to legislators, leading up to the session that begins next month, legislators hoped to create continuity in laws addressing the crimes.
The proposed changes to legislation set for consideration in February seek to change some penalties for domestic violence, stalking and strangulation.
The Joint Judiciary Interim Committee studied the issues in the interim and discovered a few discrepancies across violence laws, The Sheridan Press reported.
One bill seeks to create continuity for domestic violence penalties, making strangulation of a household member and third or subsequent convictions of domestic battery violent felonies. The legislation would also increase maximum penalties for people convicted of domestic assault.
"These laws are horrifically complex, and we're going to reach in and change this, but if we're going to change something over here, we have to make sure we're not causing some unintended consequence somewhere else," Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said. "However much it sounds like we need it, we need a more steadied approach."
Kinskey said a man could beat up a guy on the bar stool next to him and get more of a penalty than if he were to beat up his wife.
"We lined the penalties up to line up with all other assault and battery convictions," Kinskey said.
The proposed changes would also remove time limits that had been in place for the judicial system to consider past convictions of assault and battery, aiming to minimize the number of return offenders.
Lawmakers also proposed revisions to stalking laws, including an increased possible penalty for misdemeanor stalking from one year to three years.
In looking back at criminal history, it stands now that prosecutors look only at the last five years' worth of convictions to determine if the current charge results in a felony charge.
The proposed bill increases that history to 10 years. For victims of stalking, this helps identify return offenders more easily and helps prevent recidivism.
"It's a greater recognition of the trap these women find themselves in and it's getting the law to accommodate that," Kinskey said.
Consequences extend beyond the physical borders of Wyoming, too. With advances in technology, legislators opted to include language that charges stalkers under Wyoming stalking laws, even if the perpetrator may live out of state and is stalking someone in Wyoming through social media, the internet or other forms of technology.
In proving that a victim suffered harassment from a perpetrator, the current law forces the prosecution to prove that a reasonable person would suffer substantial emotional distress and "seriously alarm(s) the person toward whom it is directed."
Legislators ran into cases where the victim did not immediately leave a toxic relationship, so in order to prove harassment, they added language regarding fear.
The definition of stalking, should the bills be passed, would include acts inflicted on a victim that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their own safety, the safety of another person or for the safety of their property.
Swanson said she's thankful for the legislators' work and focus on domestic violence and stalking revisions, and expressed eagerness to see how, if passed, the laws would hold up in local courtrooms.
The last day for bill introductions is Feb. 16, and the 2018 legislative session begins Feb. 12 in Cheyenne. The bills need to be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature to be considered during the 2018 budget session.
Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press, http://www.thesheridanpress.com/