What is the Mandatory Arrest Law in Wisconsin?

The tragic shooting of Zina Haughton and her co-workers in Brookfield has highlighted the issue of domestic violence in Wisconsin.  Many people believe that this incident could have been prevented if only the Brown Deer Police Department had complied with the mandatory arrest law in Wisconsin.

What is the mandatory arrest law?  To summarize: in Wisconsin, if an officer has a reasonable basis to believe that domestic violence has occurred or will continue to occur, they MUST arrest the aggressor.  Domestic violence is defined as intentional infliction of physical pain, injury or illness or an act that may cause another person to fear imminent danger of those things.  To obtain a more detailed description of this law, see this checklist which was drafted by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WCADV).  The WCADV also publishes a fairly complete overview of state and federal domestic violence law.  To view, click here

What happened, then, with Zina Haughton and why was her husband never arrested?  It seems fairly obvious from the news reports that the statutory requirement for a mandatory arrest was met on at least 2 or 3 occasions.  The police department attempts to blame the victim by stating she refused to prosecute or recanted her story later.  This is a common response after reporting domestic violence, many times due to intimidation by the aggressor.  Therefore, the laws are written with this in mind and the decision to arrest is left to the police and prosecution, not the victims.

In our experience with domestic violence, local police departments vary greatly in their response and compliance with the mandatory arrest law.  There are instances, such as with this recent Wisconsin case, where clearly an arrest should be made which is not.  There are also instances where the police department strictly and foolishly enforces the law.  This detracts from the overall effectiveness of the law.  An even hand with some common sense should be the rule.  If there is evidence, such as a mark, bruise or scratch, there is no doubt that an arrest should be made regardless of the circumstances, cooperation of the victim or gender of the aggressor.  If there is no mark but the situation is clearly volatile, the police should, at a minimum, ask one party to leave the home for a period of time which they have the authority to do.  This very well may prevent the situation from escalating and/or domestic violence from occurring.

However, sometimes people use the police to try to gain an advantage in an upcoming or pending divorce or to punish their spouse or significant other for wrongdoing.  Police must be wary of this and if there is no evidence of any aggression or domestic violence, then an arrest is not warranted and should not be made.

The Journal Sentinel cites a lack of oversight and enforcement as the primary issue with Wisconsin’s mandatory arrest law.     They correctly point to the fact that police departments are not required to report to any central agency as to whether they are following the law and there is no remedy or consequences to the department if they fail to do so.  Perhaps the solution is to correct this loophole in the law.  Perhaps if the Brown Deer police department had to justify its actions, or lack thereof, Zina Haughton would still be alive.

Contact your legislator to voice your opinion on this issue or contact the WCADV to find out what you can do to help.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, seek help immediately before it is too late!  Contact the WCADV, a shelter, or other help agency. The WCADV publishes a directory of many of the resources available to abuse victims.

You can also seek the advice of an attorney or seek the protection of a restraining order.   To find out how to do this, see our other posting on this topic.


We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

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