By John L. Fossum, Rice County Attorney
Domestic Violence constitutes a large portion of the court’s caseload. In 2011, Minnesota Courts handled 27,288 domestic assault cases. Just over 10% of those were felony cases, and about the same number were Gross Misdemeanor assaults, 10,607 of the cases were misdemeanor assault cases and the remaining 10,965 cases were family orders for protection.
Nationally, 1 in 4 women have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner and 1 in 7
men experienced severe physical violence. Additionally, 1 in 6 women have been stalked during their lifetime and 1 in 19 men have been stalked. Domestic Violence claimed at least 34 lives in Minnesota in
2015. Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
Faced with these numbers the courts attempt to protect victims of domestic assault and violence by
prohibiting contact with the victim as a condition of release from jail. The legislature created Domestic
Abuse No Contact Orders, known by their acronym DANCO as an additional way to protect victims from
assaultive contact by partners.
It is important for everyone involved in the cases to understand that these are court orders to be taken
seriously and that only the court can change its order. Advocacy groups and the courts take the
concerns and wishes of victims seriously. But the court must also consider the safety of the victim, the
history of violence or not in the relationship along with the requests of the victim and balance those
concerns. Given the recent news event in Fargo and Plymouth everyone should take these concerns
seriously and understand that the participants in the process need to be aware of the risks of harm.
Misdemeanor assaults that happen in Faribault, Northfield, Dundas, Lonsdale or Morristown are
handled by the city attorneys for those jurisdictions. My office would handle the misdemeanor cases
occurring in the rest of the county and the gross misdemeanor and felony cases. A gross misdemeanor
or felony may be charged based on the number of prior convictions because of the level of injury.
Misdemeanor cases carry a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine a gross
misdemeanor has a maximum penalty of 365 days in jail and $3,000 fine, felonies can be punished by
more than 1 year in prison.
A violation of a DANCO by a defendant can lead to additional charges. Repeated violations may increase the sanctions to a felony and a violation may be its own cause for arrest. Violating the court’s order of no contact can cause the court to revoke a release order and require the defendant to sit in jail pending resolution of the case.
Domestic Violence cases can be among the most challenging cases on the prosecution caseload. Perceptions may change as the case proceeds and people often view violations of the no contact order
to be minor rather than serious, and the conduct can seem less serious as time goes on. The focus must
be on protecting the victim while not compromising the rights of the defendant.