COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The Kootenai County Prosecutor, Coeur d’Alene police, Idaho State Police and domestic violence advocates hosted a press conference Thursday regarding an Idaho Supreme Court ruling that limits law enforcement’s ability to make an arrest for a misdemeanor.
The Idaho Supreme Court says law enforcement officers can't arrest someone for a misdemeanor unless they have a warrant or saw the crime being committed.
The unanimous ruling made Wednesday has advocacy organizations and law enforcement groups scrambling, because it likely means police will have to dramatically change how they respond to domestic violence calls.
Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh said he will be meeting with local law enforcement and the victim advocates to come up with a plan on how to handle these cases.
“Together with the other members of the law enforcement community and our prosecutors that our victim advocacy programs, we have a lot of work to do, to figure out the next steps and how we're going to continue to do business and protect our community based on this ruling,” said Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White.
White said this can be a work in progress for while and he’s not happy with the decision.
“From my personal perspective, this ruling has really handcuffed law enforcement, it's really altered our ability to protect our folks,” White said.
A victim advocate said when an officer arrives on scene of a domestic violence call they’ll have to cite the suspect.
“And that victim is going to be left in the residence with an aggressor and offender who has just been received a citation for domestic violence, their safety is immediately at risk,” the advocate said.
Christine Jones with the Post Falls Police Victim Services Unit said just before the press conference they were called to a domestic violence situation.
“We cannot arrest him, we did not have enough to even charge for felony. Because the way the statute reads if there's any injuries, however slight, we could go with a felony. He is a truck driver. So, we opted not to cite him, because he's going to be leaving town anyway. And the chances of him coming back to face these charges are slim to none,” Jones said. “So, we just put her into our shelter, due to the fact that what else are we going to do because our officers’ hands are tied that they couldn't arrest. So, it's already happening.”
Law enforcement at the press conference agreed that they’re mostly going to have to rely on judges issuing civil no contact orders and victim advocates.
“We would lean heavily on our on-call prosecutors and are on call judges to seek warrants in cases of incidents that took place that we are officers are not witnesses to because the way that we read the case laws that says more or less arrest and we can still seek warrants for that,” said Idaho State Police Captain John Kempf.
Advocates also said this ruling is not helpful to victims and, if anything, it puts more of a burden on them.
“The victim is basically shown that our hands are tied legally. There's nothing we can really do at this point, but issue a citation and do our thorough investigation,” one of the victim advocates said.
The ruling came in a drug conviction case, but the high court noted the Idaho Constitution's provision against unlawful search and seizure doesn't allow warrantless arrests without probable cause. That means no misdemeanor arrests unless the officer saw the crime.
Officers responding to domestic violence calls often arrest the person they suspect of committing the violence on a misdemeanor charge as a way of separating those involved and diffusing the situation.