Sedgwick County District Judge Phil Journey says on the Kansas Reflector podcast the Legislature should consider a package of bills aimed at cutting domestic violence. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — District Judge Phil Journey knows the grim statistics on domestic violence and regularly comes face-to-face with perpetrators and victims of violence in the home.
His vantage point from a courthouse in Sedgwick County — epicenter of the state’s domestic violence caseload — led to development of a package of reform bills he wants the 2023 Kansas Legislature to consider. Improving the state’s response to 22,500 reported incidents of domestic violence annually, he said, could put downward pressure on 3,000 aggravated assaults, 900 kidnappings and the rapes, strangulations and homicides tied to those incidents.
Journey, a former Republican state senator and Wichita Municipal Court judge, said on the Kansas Reflector podcast not a day went by in district court that he didn’t address some facet of domestic violence.
“I’m in the family law department,” he said. “I have the equivalent of 100,000 people’s divorces, and paternity cases and child support enforcement. And once once every five weeks, I get to do protection from abuse and protection from stalking restraining orders, too.”
He said convincing the minimum 63 of 125 representatives, 21 of 40 senators and Gov. Laura Kelly to transform a piece of legislation into law wasn’t easy.
“Things are really complicated, especially when you start messing with people’s lives — thousands of people and thousands of court cases. So, I expect that there will certainly be a learning curve,” Journey said.
More officer training
Under his first bill, Journey would propose all law enforcement agencies provide supplemental training so officers were equipped to provide information to victims about securing protection from abuse orders from the court as well as helping to identify temporary housing and financial assistance.
“It’s something that’s proven to work,” he said. “Often victims of domestic violence, they don’t have any experience. They’ve never been in the court system except maybe for a speeding ticket. They have no idea what resources might be available to them and often they feel trapped, and unnecessarily so.”
Journey said officers should be required to complete a 10-question assessment at the scene of domestic violence to better inform victims about the level of danger they faced and to serve as a reference for judges handling the related court case.
Another piece of legislation recommended by Journey would prepare officers to determine the most-likely primary aggressor in a domestic violence case. The assessment would include an evaluation of what could be defensive and offensive injuries. Arresting the aggressor for disorderly conduct or another offense, rather than simply taking everyone into custody, would be beneficial, Journey said.
He said policies requiring arrest of everyone in a dispute could result in victims not reaching out to law enforcement when attacked later.
“The victim learns, when they’re simply trying to defend themselves and protect their kids, is that: ‘If I call the police, I’m going to jail.’ Guess what happens the next time an incident comes. The police don’t get called.”
He said the evaluations could be difficult because offenders sometimes inflicted wounds on themselves, called 911 before the victim or met officers at the curb to better influence interpretation of events.
Another piece of Journey’s reform package would require staggered sentencing in domestic violence perpetrators. It’s borrowed from laws applicable to third and fourth convictions for driving under the influence. While the sentence for domestic violence might be 90 days in county jail, a judge would be given the option of ordering incarceration in 30-day increments to encourage offenders to work on changing their behavior.
Offering a person the opportunity to improve their approach to personal relationships was more useful than automatically locking someone up for three months, he said. A judge could offer leniency if a person avoided probation violations, didn’t harass victims and sought behavioral health treatment.
Journey said the penalty in state law for violating a protection from abuse order should be increased by the Legislature, especially for those breaking a second or third such order. For example, instead of the second offense being a misdemeanor it would be raised to a low-grade felony. The third violation of a protective order would become a high felony more likely to require prison time, he said.
“I have seen people that have been harassed for decades, and see what it does to them. It changes the way they react in their life,” the judge said.
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