PROVIDENCE — State Rep. Michael J. Marcello wants to use GPS tracking systems to greatly expand the reach of the state’s domestic violence laws.
Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston) says a court-issued protective order or no-contact order is not enough to ensure that the victim of a crime will be safe from violence.
“Some individuals, especially in the cases of domestic violence, continue to be harassed and bothered and even abused by the individual against whom the protective or no contact order has been issued by the court,” he says. “If we want victims of domestic violence crimes to feel truly safe and to be protected from their attackers, we must do more than merely issue a court order.”
Marcello has introduced legislation that will allow the courts to force an individual who is the subject of a protective order to wear an electronic monitoring device.
Marcello’s bill (2013-H5963) will go before the House Committee on Judiciary when the General Assembly returns from its break. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) and Rep. Joy Hearn (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence).
“When a court issues a protective or no contact order, the clear intent is to provide a level of safety,” said Marcello. “The court should have the discretion to take further steps if there is reason to believe that merely issuing an order is not going to achieve its intended purpose.”
The bill would allow the court, in requiring an electronic monitoring device, to consider the person’s conduct subject to prior protective orders or no contact orders, prior convictions of crimes of violence, prior incidents of domestic violence against the party for whose benefit the order has been issued, or the offender’s history of drug or alcohol abuse or access to weapons.
Under the Marcello legislation, any domestic violence suspect ordered to wear a monitoring device would be guilty of a felony and subject to five years in prison for tampering with, damaging or destroying the device. Moreover, any costs associated with wearing a monitoring device would be borne by the suspect, unless the individual is determined by the court to be indigent.
Marcello says he had been contemplating the bill for the past two years, but said he was prompted to introduce it this year after the murder of a Johnston woman in 2012 by her husband, who confessed to killing his common-law wife. In that case, Donald K. Greenslit, 52, was charged with domestic murder and violation of a no-contact order.
“I think we need to be cautious and not conclude that this is going to be a quick fix for such a complex problem,” said Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition of Domestic Violence. “Every case would have to be looked at individually and it should be one of many tools that can be used.”
Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One, which provides services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other violent crimes, says the agency is studying Marcello’s bill.
“We applaud Rep. Marcello’s effort. Any option that helps us and helps provide protection is a good thing,” she said.
According to DeBare, intimate partner violence and domestic violence is a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans. On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.
In Rhode Island, 29.9 percent of women and 19.3 percent of men, experience some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime.
DeBare said from 2001 to 2011, at least 82 Rhode Islanders died as a result of domestic violence, and 22 domestic violence-related deaths occurred in 2010 and 2011 alone.
“We all must make a commitment to reach out to anyone who we suspect is in an abusive situation. Domestic violence happens in every community, and no one is immune to it,” she said. The good news is that help is available. There are six local domestic violence agencies in our state that provide a wide array of services, including 24 hour hotline support, emergency shelter, support groups and assistance with the legal system.”
Marcello believes the time has come for Rhode Island to at least debate the issue of GPS monitoring.
“Unfortunately, we know there have been instances when the victim of domestic violence has continued to be abused or attacked by the perpetrators of those crimes,” he says. “Clearly, there are no absolute guarantees that an individual will be completely safe merely because a protective order or no contact order has been issued. By requiring individuals, in certain circumstances, to wear a monitoring device, we can increase the level of safety the order is intended to provide.”