CAPITOL HILL, Saipan – Governor Ralph DLG. Torres and Attorney General Edward Manibusan are presenting the Legislature with a proposal to reform the Commonwealth’s domestic violence laws.
“The people of the Commonwealth strive to live by the principle of ayuda familia. Nothing is more destructive to this principle than domestic violence. As we commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we urge the Legislature to take decisive action to stop domestic violence in the Commonwealth,” said Torres and Manibusan in a joint letter to House Speaker Ralph S. Demapan and Senate President Francisco M. Borja.
The proposed bill takes a three-pronged approach to fighting family violence. The first is to create a new felony offense for strangulation of a household member. Research by the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention shows that a domestic violence victim who has been strangled is 750% more likely to be killed by their abuser than a victim who has not been strangled. If this bill is enacted, a person who strangled a household member would face up to seven years in prison.
The second prong is the enactment of the 2007 version of the Model Stalking Code. The Code, developed by the National Center for the Victims of Crime based on research into stalking behavior, would outlaw a broader range of intimidating and controlling behaviors than the Commonwealth’s existing stalking laws. “Stalking isn’t just an annoyance, it’s a threat,” said Assistant Attorney General Michael Witry, who helped draft the bill. “And stalkers are always coming up with new ways to terrorize their victims. That’s why the Model Stalking Code is designed to cover everything from explicit threats to spying to cyber stalking and more.”
The third prong is a set of evidence rules that would apply to domestic violence cases. If the bill is enacted, an abuser who prevented their victim from testifying in court would not be able to use evidentiary rules to prevent the victim’s earlier statements from being used at trial. The bill would also allow a victim’s pre-trial sworn statements to be introduced into evidence if the victim’s testimony at trial was different from the statement. Finally, the bill would allow experts to testify about scientific research into how domestic violence victims behave.
“The new evidence rules serve two major purposes,” said Witry. “First, in many domestic violence cases, the abuser lives with the victim and has lots of leverage over the victim, so the risk of witness intimidation is extremely high. The first two new evidence rules help to protect against witness intimidation. Second, people who are victims of domestic violence frequently behave in ways that don’t seem to make any sense to the general public. But once you’ve done some research, you see that many of these behaviors show up over and over again in domestic violence victims. Our judges and juries need to be able to hear about that research to be able to understand victim behavior.”
Torres and Manibusan made their presentation to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which has taken place every October since 1987. In their letter to the Legislature, Torres and Manibusan thanked the members of the Office of the Attorney General who drafted the bill, along with “all those involved in fighting domestic violence in our community.”
“We ask you to live up to our principles and protect the families of the Commonwealth by enacting this bill,” said Torres and Manibusan.