Boise, ID – The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement officers can no longer arrest suspects for misdemeanor offenses unless they have a warrant or watched the crime being committed, without exception.
The court issued the unanimous ruling on June 12, and it went into effect immediately, KTVB reported.
Prosecutors, advocates, and law enforcement officers are particularly concerned about how the change will affect cases of alleged domestic violence, according to KREM.
Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said that the ruling “may cause significant risk to victims of domestic violence and will make it significantly more difficult for law enforcement and the courts to hold offenders of domestic violence accountable,” KTVB reported.
Law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups have been scrambling to figure out how to handle the sudden, sweeping change.
“From my personal perspective, this ruling has really handcuffed law enforcement,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said during a press conference. “It's really altered our ability to protect our folks.”
Instead of arresting domestic violence suspects and removing them from the volatile situation, officers will be required to issue them a citation instead.
If the victim wants to get away from the alleged perpetrator, he or she will have to volunteer to go to a shelter or some other safe place.
Otherwise, police will be forced to leave the suspect and victim together.
“That victim is going to be left in the residence with an aggressor and offender who has just…received a citation for domestic violence," one victim advocate told KREM. "Their safety is immediately at risk.”
“The victim is basically shown that our hands are tied legally,” the advocate noted. “There's nothing we can really do at this point, but issue a citation and do our thorough investigation.”
Post Falls Police Victim Services Unit spokesperson Christine Jones said that the complications have already begun, and cited one recent case as an example.
“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,” she explained. “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 officers will likely be forced to rely on victim advocates and judges in order to secure civil no-contact orders in such cases, KREM reported.
“We would lean heavily on our on-call prosecutors and our 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,” Idaho State Police Captain John Kempf said.
Chief White said he is also concerned about a host of other situations where misdemeanor offenders cannot no longer be arrested on the spot.
“We come across an accident that just occurred,” he presented as an example. “And the person who caused the accident is standing on the side of the road, so he’s no longer behind the wheel, and he is drunk. Drunk off his mind.”
“We no longer have the ability to make an arrest in that situation,” Chief White said.
Meridian Police Department Chief Deputy Tracy Basterrechea said that the ruling could result in life-or-death consequences for victims, especially in domestic assault, child abuse, and stalking situations, KBOI reported.
"I'm not disputing [the Idaho Supreme Court's] ruling or their justification," he said. "It's just a devastating ruling for us. It's imperative that the governor and the legislature amend the constitution and fix this."
The court’s ruling was the result of a drug conviction case in which a man was arrested for allegedly groping a woman.
He was charged with misdemeanor battery, but the arresting officer did not witness the alleged offense.
The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the arrest violated the Idaho Constitution’s rules against unlawful search and seizure, which prohibit warrantless arrests without probable cause, KBOI reported.
The court further determined that, had he not been arrested for misdemeanor battery, the suspect would not have been found in possession of drugs.
His drug conviction was overturned as a result.