Is California a Mandatory Arrest State for Domestic Violence?

  • Post last modified:October 8, 2023

What Happens When Officers Respond to a Domestic Violence Complaint?

Domestic violence calls can present unique challenges for law enforcement officers. They may arrive at a scene where tempers have flared, but it may not always be obvious whether a crime has been committed — or by whom. California law recognizes the difficulty of responding to such calls and correctly evaluating the situation to make arrests and domestic violence charges.

In fact, the law requires police officers to go through specific training for dealing with domestic violence complaints. Recognizing the potential seriousness of such situations, California also requires officers in Los Angeles County and throughout the state to make arrests in certain situations.

Are Officers Required to Make an Arrest When Responding to Every Domestic Violence Call?

If police officers arriving at the scene have probable cause to believe that domestic violence has occurred, they are required to make an arrest. The officers may arrest one person or multiple people at the scene, depending on what they believe happened based on evidence and their immediate investigation.

What Does Probable Cause Mean?

According to the California Commission on POST Domestic Violence Guidelines, officers should consider factors such as:

  • Whether there is a covered relationship between the individuals involved that might warrant a domestic violence arrest
  • Whether a felony crime was potentially committed that would be domestic violence related, such as spousal rape, criminal threats, or false imprisonment
  • Whether the officer sees enough evidence to make them believe there is probable cause that assault and battery has occurred
  • Whether the officer has reason to believe a misdemeanor domestic violence crime may have occurred, including telephone calls with intent to annoy, violation of restraining orders, stalking, or vandalism

Do Officers Need a Warrant?

Law enforcement officers do not need an arrest warrant to arrest someone when they have been called out for a domestic violence complaint as long as they have probable cause.

Thus, whether or not there is an arrest and who is arrested depends on the investigation of the officers and their decisions on the scene.

Factors That Shouldn’t Sway Officers Away From an Arrest

According to information published by POST, there is some belief among lawmakers and others that, in the past, arrests were not always made in domestic violence cases due to misunderstandings or biases about certain situations. To that end, the POST guidelines list numerous factors that should not be used to sway an officer’s decision to make an arrest.

For example, if officers have probable cause that domestic violence occurred, they should not avoid arrest because someone does or does not live in the same location as someone else. Other factors that POST says should not sway officers away from arrest in these cases if they believe they have probable cause include:

  • Whether restraining orders or protective orders exist or not
  • Whether or not the person who made the complaint has a history of such complaints
  • Whether or not the person who called in the complaint now presents a preference for or against the arrest of someone else
  • The emotional state of the person who called in the complaint
  • Promises from the person being accused that such behavior did not happen or won’t happen again
  • The community status or occupation of anyone involved in the issue
  • Any financial consequences of an arrest
  • Belief or speculation on the part of the officer or anyone else involved that an arrest won’t lead to a conviction or that the person making the complaint won’t follow through
  • Any sort of demographic-based factors, including language barriers, beliefs about certain cultures, or sexual orientation

It’s important to note that some of these factors may be important, especially in building a defense against a domestic violence charge. Their inclusion on this list doesn’t mean they are not material to the case. However, officers are not supposed to use any of these considerations to make a determination that an arrest is not the right choice if they believe that a crime has actually occurred.

Ensure You Have Adequate Legal Representation When Facing Domestic Violence Charges

The goal of the rules, laws, and guidelines mentioned above is to help ensure domestic violence reports are taken seriously and reduce the chance that victims are left with abusers after making a complaint. However, in some cases, the mandate to arrest when there is probable cause can lead to innocent people facing domestic violence charges. In other cases, it might lead to people facing charges that are more serious than the situation might warrant.

As you can see, from the time you are arrested on domestic violence charges, it’s important to begin making a case for your defense. Not every arrest on these types of charges leads to prosecution, so with experienced legal help to protect your rights and state your case, you might avoid court altogether.

If you do end up facing prosecution, a good criminal defense team can help you understand your options for defense and what types of outcomes you might face. They can also work to gather evidence and speak to witnesses, preparing to present the best possible case for your defense in court if necessary.

Being charged with a crime can be frightening and confusing. In the wake of a domestic dispute or other emotional moment, this is especially true. Don’t face such challenges alone. Reach out to the offices of Jerry Nicholson by calling 562-205-8499 to find out how we can help.