Domestic violence law has unintended consequences, lawmaker says

Gwen Salley (FOX 8 photo)
Gwen Salley (FOX 8 photo)

A new law that aims to protect victims of domestic violence has far-reaching unintended consequences, according to one lawmaker who voted for Gwen's Law.

In May of this year, a Desoto Parish woman, Gwen Salley, was shot to death by her estranged husband. Michael Salley had been arrested just days earlier for another domestic incident involving his wife. Following her murder, Salley's family raised questions about whether her husband should have been on the streets.

Tania Tetlow, director of the Tulane Law School Domestic Violence Clinic, says, "What we're worried about at that point is not just whether the defendant is going to come back to court, but also whether he's going to engage in witness-tampering or punishment of the victim if she called for help."

Experts like Tetlow say the period of time immediately following a person's arrest for domestic violence is critical.

Following Salley's death, State Rep. Roy Burrell of Shreveport introduced legislation that would create a "cooling off" period after an arrest.

FOX 8 legal analyst Joseph Raspanti explains, "You cannot get to a bond, you can't have a bond hearing for five working days. That means five days while the court is in session."

But State Rep. Joseph Lopinto III, of Metairie, voted for Gwen's Law and points out that the language of the law is too broad. "It affects all felony crimes in which there's a household member involved."

Raspanti explains that the law doesn't just pertain to domestic violence situations.

"If Junior takes dad's car and momma calls the police and says the car is stolen, and they arrest the kid, the law applies to that, too, and that was certainly one of the unintended consequences," Raspanti says.

Lopinto says he now working to change the law. "I've already put a bill request in for next year in order for us to come back and probably limit the scope of what's Gwen's Law. I guess back to the intention that it was supposed to be."

Even Tetlow admits there are flaws. But she supports other aspects of the law, saying, "Even if they're let go on bond, the court would have the authority to put an ankle monitor on them and the way that works is it can have them on home arrest, but also that you could tell if he goes close to the victim's home or work."

Lopinto says the bill has good intentions to protect innocent victims, but at this point, it's far too over-reaching and needs to be fixed.

After Michael Salley murdered his wife, he turned the gun on himself. They're survived by their 7-year-old daughter.

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