Dallas experienced criminal defense lawyer discusses how domestic nuisance ordinances can unfairly punish victims of domestic violence.
It may come as a surprise to many, but a number of cities across the United States have local ordinances on their books that make it a “nuisance” under the law to file a certain number of domestic violence complaints, regardless of whether the person making the complaint was actually abused.
In the majority of cases, nuisance ordinances like this follow a “three strikes” pattern, which means a person can’t contact the police for help with a domestic violence case more than three times without facing the possibility of being evicted from a rental property.
As a result, individuals charged with being a nuisance frequently get evicted from their apartments. When someone is a victim of domestic violence, getting thrown out of their home can put them at an even higher risk of suffering violence.
In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were able to get one city in Missouri to rework its law to stop the practice of evictions for nuisance complaints. However, similar laws are still in place in other cities.
Examples of Evictions Under Local Nuisance Laws
In the ACLU case, a woman in Missouri experienced domestic violence when her ex-boyfriend kicked in her door and punched her in the face while she was sleeping. Between 2011 and 2012, she called the police four times after he struck, shoved, stabbed, and choked her. Because her city had a local ordinance that made it a nuisance for anyone to make four domestic violence complaints, she was evicted from her apartment.
In a different case in Pennsylvania, a woman said she was too frightened to file a complaint with the police because they had previously warned her that she had already filed three complaints, which meant a fourth would make her a nuisance and subject to eviction.
However, a neighbor noticed her injuries and contacted the police anyway. When the police got the call, they were obligated by law to contact her landlord, who evicted her due to the ordinance.
What Is a Nuisance?
Many jurisdictions have nuisance laws, which is a type of infraction that can be a tort, which is a civil wrong, or a quasi-criminal charge. Depending on the ordinance, a public nuisance is typically punishable by a fine.
Nuisance is an area of law brought to the United States by the early settlers, who carried over their system of laws under English common law. Under the common law definition, a public nuisance is any behavior that interferes with public safety, peace or convenience.
In many cases involving nuisance ordinances that unjustly punish victims of domestic violence, the laws in question are outdated. Experts say the majority of these ordinances were passed in the 1980s when the public panicked about rising crime rates and the use of drugs. People who attended schools in the 1980s and 1990s will probably remember the D.A.R.E. program and others like it that made the notion of drug use seem like a serious threat in every community.
While these types of programs are certainly useful, the reality is that crime rates have fallen consistently since the 1990s. Today, the majority of cities are safer than ever, and crime rates in the United States, in general, are at a record low. However, many cities still maintain older laws that haven’t been updated in decades.
Some Nuisance Laws Unfairly Target Minorities, Women and the Poor
Many experts believe that nuisance laws like the ones in the domestic violence case examples were passed as a way to free up police resources and stop people from making repetitive and frivolous police complaints.
It’s also possible that cities wanted to help landlords get problem tenants out of their properties, and perhaps even out of the city itself, by making it a nuisance to file more than a certain number of domestic violence complaints.
The result, however, is that such ordinances disproportionately target women, minorities, and those who live in economically disadvantaged areas. A 2013 study found that black neighborhoods were three times more likely to receive nuisance citations than white neighborhoods.
In some cases, victims of domestic violence have resisted asking the police for help because they fear getting kicked out of their residence. For someone in an abusive relationship, this can keep them trapped in a cycle of abuse. In the most serious cases, it can put a person’s life at risk.
Although the ACLU won a victory in the Missouri case in 2018, the organization notes that similar ordinances still exist in many cities across the country.
Anyone who has had a nuisance complaint filed against them due to filing a police report should speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer about their case. The defense attorneys at the Broden & Mickelsen, LLP have decades of experience representing people charged with state crimes in Texas and can help determine the best course of action.
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Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case.