Is arrest mandatory when police respond to a domestic violence call?

On Behalf of | Jun 2, 2023 | Violent Crimes |

Domestic violence refers to abusive behavior within a familial or intimate relationship, such as between spouses, partners or family members. It can manifest in various forms, including physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse.

When the police are called to respond to a domestic violence incident, are they required to arrest someone? Under Missouri state law, the answer is generally no, unless police are responding to the second domestic violence call within twelve hours involving the same suspected offender and police make a finding of probably cause that a crime occurred.

Law enforcement officers’ discretion in domestic violence case

When the police receive a call regarding domestic violence, they are duty-bound to respond promptly and take appropriate action to help protect the alleged victim and prevent further harm. In Missouri, an officer has discretion to arrest the offending party whether or not an alleged violation of law occurred in the arresting officer’s presence.

And should the officer decide not to make an arrest, they must submit a written report describing the allegedly offending party, complete with their name, address and reasons an arrest wasn’t made.

What about subsequent domestic violence calls?

If an officer is subsequently called to the same address within twelve hours of the first distress call, they are required to arrest the offender if there is probable cause to believe the offender committed domestic violence. This is Missouri state law under Mo. Rev. Stat. 455.085.

Investigation of domestic violence claims

Law enforcement officers investigating a domestic violence incident aren’t allowed to threaten the arrest of all parties to discourage requests or law enforcement intervention by any party. Instead, if the officers have received opposing complaints from two or more parties, they’re required to assess each complaint separately to help establish if seeking an arrest warrant is necessary.

It’s important to note that law enforcement officers, their superiors and their employment entities making arrests in good faith are exempt from liability in any civil action alleging false arrest or malicious prosecution.

How Missouri’s law compares to other states

In several other states, law enforcement officers responding to a domestic violence call are required to make an arrest. The rationale is that this is supposed to deter abuse.

Under Missouri state law, however, there is no such mandatory arrest, though there is an exception for a subsequent call within 12 hours where probable cause is found.