A recent story out of Seminole County, Florida has made headlines spotlighting the ineffectiveness of injunctions for protection against domestic violence in cases where the respondent has no regard for human life. Henry Brown killed his wife, two children, and himself in a domestic dispute after a judge issued an injunction for protection against him. The injunction specifically ordered that Brown turn over his firearms to law enforcement. He used those same firearms to murder his family and to take his own life. SLG Parnter John Gihon spoke to News 13 Orlando about violations of injunctions. You can read the story here.
The question is what could have been done to prevent this senseless and brutal act? Unfortunately, injunctions are usually not the answer. Any person who violates an injunction for protection against domestic violence in Florida is guilty of a first degree misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a first degree misdemeanor is one year in jail. Very rarely will anybody with little or no record receive a length jail sentence. But the real problem is that a person who is so filled with rage that they are willing to kill children and themselves are not going to be deterred by an injunction and threat of up to 1 year in jail.
But what about the guns? What if law enforcement proactively went and retrieved Henry Brown's guns after the injunction was set in place. Unfortunately, the sad and unfulfilling answer is that this just simply is not practical and has very little correlation to potential violence. First, a determined person will find other firearms or other means to achieve his or her sinister desires. Second, countless injunctions are issued everyday throughout the State with varying degrees of conduct underlying each case. Law enforcement doesn't have the manpower to determine whether the respondent has firearms, determine how many firearms respondents have, and enforce them turning over those firearms. The same argument could be made for DUIs or other crimes. If a person's license is suspended for DUI, should law enforcement monitor that person 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to ensure that they don't drive? Regardless, if that person drives while impaired and kills an innocent victim, people will question why that person was able to drive in the first place. It just simply isn't practical to proactively enforce each provision of an injunction.
So how are violations of injunctions enforced? The sad truth is that it is often the victim reporting the violation to law enforcement that will enact a violation of injunction investigation. Often times, like in the case of Henry Brown, it is too late by then and the damage has been done.
Are Injunctions useless? No. Absolutely not. In cases where the respondent has something to lose that they are afraid of losing, like their liberty, their children, their job, or their money, an injunction can provide a victim of domestic violence with relief from badgering, verbal abuse, insults, potential for physical confrontation and other forms of violence. In the vase majority of cases, both sides want to stay away from each other. The injunction sets the terms of their separation.
There is a dark side to injunctions as well. It takes almost no evidence to obtain an injunction. Judges often want to issue the injunction as quickly as possible and many times will put pressure on the respondent to concede to the injunction. Injunctions are used as weapons in divorce proceedings and child custody battles. Unwitting people often concede to injunctions because they don't want to go near the petitioner, but they don't realize that they are giving up certain rights.
The moral of the story is that injunctions can be effective tools to protect true victims of domestic violence when the respondent has something that he or she doesn't want to lose. However, injunctions can also be misused and will have no effect on a person so enraged that they are willing to kill and to die to satisfy that rage.
You can read more about Violation of Injunctions in Florida here.