Monday, March 22, 1999

Bill imposes
mandatory jail
for dating abuse

The judiciary, police and
public defender offices
say the measure is vague

By Helen Altonn


Legislature '99 Abusers in dating relationships would be subject to mandatory jail terms under changes to a bill moving forward in the Legislature.

The House Human Services and Housing Committee toughened a Senate bill to include dating relationships under the abuse of family or household member law, which provides for a mandatory prison sentence.

The change is aimed primarily at protecting dating teen-agers.

An estimated one-third of all high school and college-age youths experience some type of violence in an intimate or dating relationship, the bill says.

The Senate version permits a victim in a dating relationship to obtain a protective order in Family Court rather than an order against harassment in District Court.

Supporters urged the House committee to expand the bill to include "dating relationship" in the abuse of household member law. The Senate had deleted that provision from the original bill.

House Human Services Chairman Dennis Arakaki said the definition of "dating relationship" will be improved before sending the measure to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

The Judiciary, Honolulu Police Department and the public defender's Office said the definition was ambiguous.

Family Court Senior Judge Dan T. Kochi said, "It is anticipated that the definition of 'dating relationship' will encourage time-consuming litigation on the existence of a dating relationship.

"Rather than spending precious time considering and issuing protective orders for the protection of petitioners, the court's time will be consumed with deciding if dating relationships exist."

George McKeague, captain of the Honolulu Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division, pointed out there already are laws covering teen-agers or others who are attacked outside of a household relationship.

However, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence said abusers who don't live with victims can only be charged with third-degree assault or related offenses.

They escape prosecution and penalties provided under domestic violence laws, which require anger-management classes and mandatory jail time, the coalition said.

Arakaki's committee also sent the Judiciary Committee a Women's Caucus bill requiring sentencing judges to consider as an aggravating factor the occurrence of a domestic violence offense before a minor.

The public defender's office suggested the measure could have "unfavorable consequences," such as creating situations where minors must be interviewed to gather evidence.

The prosecuting attorney's office said domestic violence offenses in the presence of a child must be targeted for special treatment because of the psychological and emotional damage to the child.

"Children are a forgotten component of this social problem," said Laurel Ries, crisis counselor and mental health specialist.

Arakaki said two additional aggravating factors recommended by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women will be added to the bill: whether there was a temporary restraining order, injunction or other court order protecting the victim at the time of the incident, and whether the victim was pregnant.

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