The Florida Legislature has imposed mandatory batterer’s intervention classes for any crime of domestic violence as defined in Florida Statute 741.28. In addition, under Florida Statute 741.31, judges may impose the batterer’s intervention program for injunctions against domestic violence and must impose the program if there is a violation of the injunction.
The purpose of enacting the mandatory participation in Florida’s Batterer’s Intervention Program was to attempt to rehabilitate defendants who were susceptible to committing domestic violence. However, in practice, the mandatory sentencing of this program is often imposed on individuals who have no history or tendency to commit domestic violence. This often occurs in cases where a boyfriend or girlfriend has difficulty recovering from a break up and constantly calls the other party. This individual could be issued an injunction, or even worse, charged criminally. Then, a judge may be required to impose batterer’s intervention classes even though the person has no history of domestic violence and poses no threat of committing domestic violence in the future.
The result of this mandatory sentencing offers rehabilitation to persons in need but also can waste unnecessary resources on non-violent offenders.
What is the Batterer’s Intervention Program?
Florida Statute 741.325 sets the requirements for the Batterer’s Intervention Program in Florida. Under Florida law, to complete the Batterer’s Intervention program, an individual must complete 29 weeks of the program which includes intake, assessment, orientation programming, and 24 weekly sessions. The program content is based on a psychoeducational model that addresses tactics of power and control by one person over another. Each session lasts approximately an hour and a half.
In Miami, FL, the Batterer’s Intervention Program is supervised by the Advocate Care Program. In previous years, certification of the program was required by the Department of Children and Families. However, that requirement ended in 2012. To find an updated list of certified Batterer’s Intervention Program providers in Miami, click here.
Who is required to attend the Batterer’s Intervention Program?
Under Florida Law, anyone that is convicted of a crime involving domestic violence must attend the Batterer’s Intervention Program. Domestic violence includes the crimes of:
- Aggravated Assault
- Aggravated Battery
- Sexual Assault
- Sexual Battery
- Stalking and Aggravated Stalking
- False Imprisonment
- Any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death to one family or household member by another family or household member.
Any individual who pleads guilty or no contest to any of the above offenses
will be required to attend mandatory classes for the Batterer’s Intervention Program. In addition, if you are found to have violated an injunction for domestic violence in either civil or criminal court, the judge must also require you to attend the Batterer’s Intervention Program.
Is the Batterer’s Intervention Program effective?
The Miami State Attorney’s Office takes domestic violence cases seriously. This is evidenced by their decision to create a separate unit of prosecutors that handle only domestic violence cases. Statistically, their efforts to deter domestic violence appear to be successful as the number of individuals charged with domestic violence have steadily decreased since 2006.
However, as with any type of mandatory sentencing, the Batterer’s Intervention Program attempts to use a “one size fits all” sentencing scheme with respect to domestic violence that is unfairly used against defendants who are non-violent offenders. Consider these examples:
Example 1: Tony is in a relationship with Sandy. Sandy ends the relationship with Tony because she was cheating on him with another guy. This was Tony’s first relationship and he is devastated. In an attempt to rekindle the relationship with Sandy, Tony calls Sandy 20 times over a 3 day period. Sandy calls the police and Tony is charged with Stalking. Rather than risk going to trial, Tony decides to plea guilty to Stalking.
Example 2: Jill and Jake are in a relationship and living together. Jake cheats on Jill with her best friend. To get revenge on Jake, Jill requests an injunction for domestic violence against Jake after fabricating a story that Jake pushed her. The judge grants a temporary injunction against Jake and Jake is served with the injunction before he even gets a chance to defend himself in court. Prior to the scheduled injunction hearing, Jake texts Jill that he is sorry for cheating on her and he loves her.
Tony would be subject to mandatory attendance in the Batterer’s
Intervention Program despite the fact that there were no allegations that Tony was ever violent towards Sandy. This is because he pled guilty to a qualifying domestic violence offense, stalking, that creates mandatory sentencing in the Batterer’s Intervention Program.
Jake would also be subject to mandatory attendance in the Batterer’s Intervention Program. Even though Jake never hit Sandy, he would be subject to mandatory sentencing in the Batterer’s Intervention Program simply due to the fact that he violated the injunction by texting Jill “I love you” after being served with the injunction.
Clearly, the Florida Legislature did not intend to require the above non-violent offenders to participate in such a demanding and intensive rehabilitation program as the Batterer’s Intervention Program. Yet, the Judge would be required by law to sentence both individuals to the program. The Florida Legislature’s unwillingness to allow judges discretion in imposing the Batterer’s Intervention Program is the source of this unjust problem.
What can I do to avoid participating in the Batterer’s Intervention Program?
If you are charged with a domestic violence charge or are served with a domestic violence injunction, the only guarantee to avoid sentencing in the Batterer’s Intervention Program will be to obtain a dismissal to the allegations. Therefore, you need a qualified criminal defense attorney that is experienced in handling domestic violence cases.
E.J. Hubbs is a board certified criminal trial attorney. Less than 1% of attorneys are board certified by the Florida Bar in criminal trial law. Board certified criminal trial lawyers are the only attorneys that can call themselves experts in the field of criminal defense. The Florida Bar imposes strict requirements to obtain board certification including: experience in criminal law, jury trial experience, and legal writing. This experience can benefit you directly by giving you the best opportunity to obtain a dismissal on your domestic violence charge or injunction which will allow you to avoid sentencing in the Batterer’s Intervention Program.