Consider this common scenario: you and your spouse or family member or significant other are involved in a heated argument. You are both very angry and you can see no end in sight. Perhaps your children are scared because you are both yelling. Your spouse or family member picks up a book and throws it across the room out of anger. You just want the argument to stop. You know that police respond to domestic issues daily and you consider calling for an officer to come act as a mediator and help you resolve the dispute peacefully. What do you do?
In this time of distress, many people will instinctively call the police simply for help in settling the argument. However, this can have unintended, drastic consequences. Suddenly, a heated argument and request for police assistance in solving a dispute can quickly turn into an arrest for domestic assault even if no physical contact ever occurred. How can this happen? The answer lies in the definition of “assault” in the Tennessee Code Section 39-13-101, which states:
(a) A person commits assault who:
(1) Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another;
(2) Intentionally or knowingly causes another to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury; or
(3) Intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another and a reasonable person would regard the contact as extremely offensive or provocative.
If you look closely at the second definition above, you will notice that no physical contact is necessary to charge someone with domestic assault. Depending on the circumstances, shouting, using harsh language, or slamming doors could reasonably cause a person to fear imminent bodily injury. Thus, once the police arrive on the scene, it becomes a judgment call for the officer. The police more than likely will not sit you both down, discuss the issue and help you to resolve the problem. The most likely scenario is that the officer will arrest the person who seems to be the most aggressive and charge him or her with domestic assault, even though there was no physical contact and even though you had no intention of having your spouse or family member arrested. The police will not mediate your disagreement. They will more often than not make an arrest to prevent further escalation and under the Tennessee Code definition of “assault” above, charge one of the parties with domestic assault.
Many people are simply unaware that a domestic assault in Tennessee does not require physical contact. Similarly, many people are unaware that requesting police assistance in resolving a dispute may have such unintended consequences. To read more about the severe consequences of a domestic assault charge, please read our domestic assault information page.
What do you think? Were you surprised by this information? Do you think that police officers should act more as a mediator, or do you think that an arrest and charge of domestic assault is more appropriate? Let us know in the comments below.
(Important note: this post is not intended to discourage you from calling for police assistance when you feel that you or your children are in danger. In that situation, do not hesitate to dial 911. This is merely intended to inform you that asking a police officer to merely solve a dispute may likely have unintended consequences.)
I have represented numerous clients in the Montgomery County area who have been charged with domestic assault without ever making physical contact with the alleged victim. Please see my case results for examples of outcomes.