1997 Domestic Violence Legislation

Neal Miller, Esq., Principal Associate

Copyright 1997 Institute for Law and Justice. This document may be be distributed freely as long as the document and its parts are not changed and as long as the copyright, grant reference to the National Institute of Justice, and the disclaimer of Department of Justice responsibility for content are included as shown here and below.

Grant No. 96-WT-NX-0007 from the National Institute of Justice to the Institute for Law and Justice

This project was supported by Grant No. 96-WT-NX-0007 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the 1997 legislative year, only seven states and the District of Columbia had not enacted any domestic violence related laws. Four other state legislatures were still in session but had not enacted such laws as of September 2, 1997. The Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, and Texas legislators were the most active in passing new laws. The Texas legislators were the most active, passing seven distinct acts relating to domestic violence including reenactments of the code provisions relating to civil protective orders and stalking.

Summary of Changes

Among the 39 states whose legislatures enacted domestic violence laws, the types of laws passed ranged from creation of new criminal offenses to technical amendments of existing statutes to clarify language ambiguities. Among the most important areas of change were new criminal law provisions, criminal procedure amendments, stalking law changes, provisions for full faith and credit to out-of-state protective orders, other amendments to civil protection order provisions, police training requirements, and collateral effects of a conviction for domestic violence.

Criminal Law Enactments

Ten states amended their penal codes in 1997. These new laws ranged from creation of new crimes (6 states) to technical amendments that expand the scope of existing law, e.g., increased the types of persons covered by stalking law, (7 states). Other criminal law changes included increased penalties for violating a domestic violence related criminal provision (6 states). The most significant of these laws included provisions making harassment of a minor a separate felony offense (Florida), establishing the crime of interference with a 911 call as a gross misdemeanor (Minnesota), making interfering with report of domestic violence a crime (Alaska), and establishing that violation of stalking protective order is a crime (South Dakota).

Criminal Procedure Changes

Changes in state criminal procedure laws include increased arrest authority (6 states), authority for criminal protective order as part of pretrial release (2 states), and elimination of civil compromise or other outcomes as alternative to prosecution (3 states). Among the more significant changes in state criminal procedure were establishment of public policy against dual arrests (Florida), victim of domestic violence must be informed of right to copy of incident report (Maryland), pilot project to use breath analyzers to monitor domestic violence offenders (Minnesota), and mandatory offender fingerprinting if released by citation (Nevada).

Stalking Law Provisions

Thirteen states enacted legislation to strengthen their laws against stalking. Of these, five states amended their criminal laws, three their civil protection order laws, and four states amended both types of laws. Among the most significant of these laws was Texas' reenactment of its stalking law to meet constitutional objections that struck down the former law.

Full Faith and Credit

Nine states enacted legislation implementing the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) requirement for full faith and credit between states for orders of protection. In 1997, two types of such laws were noted: those requiring law enforcement authorities to enforce orders meeting due process requirements and those first requiring registration of out-of-state orders with a local court. A variant on the latter approach is for registration of a protective order with the state order registry. Among the more interesting laws implementing full faith and credit are those calling for a $5,000 bail for contempt of a foreign state court order (Oklahoma) and those requiring that all protective orders reference the applicable federal criminal code provision for interstate domestic violence (Minnesota).

Civil Protection Orders

Fifteen states amended their civil protection laws in 1997. These included two states central registry of orders laws, three states where filing fees have been limited, and two states authorizing a firearm possession bar as part of any civil protection order. Among the more interesting new civil protection laws is a Rhode Island law making forwarding of a protection order to the police discretionary with the victim; previously, forwarding of the order was mandatory. In contrast, a new Virginia law authorizes police to electronically seek an emergency protective order and places a priority for emergency order registration within the state system. An Illinois law requires that a judge be available 24 hours a day to hear applications for emergency protective orders.

Police and Prosecutor Training

Two states enacted legislation requiring police training in domestic violence. Another state now requires police to develop policies and procedures for handling domestic violence cases. Still another state requires entry and in-service training for its prosecutors, without any specification of content, however.

Collateral Effects of Domestic Violence Conviction

Laws providing for collateral effects of a conviction for domestic violence are of two main types. First are laws implementing the federal requirement barring convictees of gun licenses (2 states). Second are laws prohibiting a person from serving as a law enforcement officer where that person was convicted of domestic violence (2 states). A significant variation on these laws is Tennessee's requirement that offenders offering pleas of guilty to a domestic violence offense must be informed of the federal law requirement barring their possession of a firearm.

Miscellaneous Laws

Other unique legislation in 1997 relating to domestic violence included:


Domestic violence legislation remained a major policy topic in 1997 for state legislators. The enactment of the Violence Against Women Act was responsible, in part, for much legislative activity, especially with laws implementing the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution.