Court Cases; Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report

The Connecticut General Assembly


July 1, 1994 94-R-0598


FROM: Sandra Norman-Eady, Senior Research Attorney

RE: Domestic Violence

You wanted a historical perspective of domestic violence laws in Connecticut, starting before the Tracey Thurman federal court decision to the present time. You also wanted us to include current criminal penalties, required police training, and counseling.


Connecticut domestic violence laws have changed significantly since the first law was enacted in 1977. Initially, the law was designed to protect an abused spouse from future abuse by authorizing the court to grant temporary restraining or protective orders. Four years later the law was broadened to allow the court to issue orders of protection if any member of a family, not just a spouse, abused another family member. In 1986, the state's Family Violence Act was enacted. The act was, in large part, a response to the federal court decision in Thurman v. City of Torrington, 595 F.Supp. 1521 (D.C. Conn. 1984). The court held that police practices regarding the treatment of victims of family violence when compared to the treatment of victims of violence where there was no domestic or family relationship was discriminatory in violation of the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause.

The General Assembly attempted to address the court's concerns by enacting the Family Violence Act thereby providing directives and guidelines to the police and the court on how to handle family violence cases. The act requires the police to respond more aggressively to reports of family violence. For example, they may not take the relationship of the parties or whether the victim wants the abuser arrested into consideration when deciding whether to make an arrest. This aggressive action resulted in a steady increase in the number of arrests and prosecutions of these cases between 1986 and 1992 (from approximately 24,000 to over 30,000 cases were prosecuted). There was a reduction in the number of family violence cases prosecuted in 1993. Only 19,629 of these cases were prosecuted during that year. For your information we have attached the Department of Public Safety's 1993 annual report on family violence crimes. The report includes the number of incidents reported beginning in 1989, the relationships of the parties, the ages of the participants, and whether weapons were involved. The act also provides for family violence education and training and establishes family violence intervention units.

As you know, domestic or family violence is not a separate criminal offense in Connecticut. By law, both pre- and post-Thurman, individuals who engage in violence against a spouse or family member can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts in each case. Since family violence is currently defined as an incident resulting in physical harm or threatened violence that constitutes fear of imminent physical harm. Examples of the crimes an accused can be charged with include assault, kidnapping, and sexual assault.


Connecticut's first domestic violence law was enacted in 1977 (CGS 46b-38, PA 77-336). This law established a procedure for court ordered relief from physical abuse or threats of present physical pain. Specifically, the law allowed a spousal abuse victim to file an application with an affidavit to the Superior Court for relief from further abuse. The affidavit had to include a brief statement of the conditions from which relief was sought. The law required the court to hold a hearing within 14 days of the application's receipt and provide the abusing spouse with notice at least five days before the hearing. But the law allowed the court to issue an order without notice or a hearing if there was an immediate and present physical danger to the applicant.

The law authorized the court to grant any relief it deemed appropriate, including granting a temporary order for the offending spouse to refrain from (1) imposing restraints upon the victim; (2) assaulting, molesting, sexually assaulting, or attacking the victim; or (3) entering the family dwelling or the victim's dwelling. The order was effective only up to 90 days unless one of the parties started divorce or legal separation proceedings within the 90-day period. If such proceedings were commenced, the order continued in effect unless it was modified by the court. Anyone violating the order could have been held in contempt of court.

In 1981 there were two statutory changes regarding domestic violence. A Family Matters chapter was created that contained a section on family abuse (CGS 46b-15). In addition, the 1977 spousal abuse law was amended making it first degree criminal trespass for anyone to violate the court order by entering or remaining in a building or any other premises. Criminal trespass was punishable by up to one year imprisonment, up to a $1,000 fine, or both. The amended law also permitted the court to extend a restraining order beyond its 90-day limit for such additional time as was necessary to protect the victim from bodily harm.

The new family abuse law allowed adult victims of continued threats of present physical pain or physical injury by a family member to apply to the court for a temporary restraining order. The procedures for obtaining the order and the relief that the court could grant was the same as that under the spousal abuse law. But the court could not prohibit an abuser from entering his own home if he was sheltering a person aged 60 or older there.

In 1983, the spousal abuse law was amended to allow a person who filed for legal separation or a divorce at the same time that an application for a temporary restraining order was filed to pay one instead of two filing fees (PA 83-319).


In 1986, the General Assembly passed the Family Violence Act in response to the federal court decision in Thurman v. City of Torrington, 595 F.Supp. 1521 (D.C. Conn. 1984). In Thurman, the court held that the city violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment when its police officers failed to protect a victim of spousal abuse but readily protected victims of abuse when there was no domestic relationship.

Family Violence Act—Relationship to Prior Law

The Family Violence Act is a combination of the spousal abuse and family abuse laws. The new law defines family or household members to include spouses, former spouses, parents, individuals aged 18 or older related by blood or marriage, and unrelated individuals aged 16 or older who are either living together or who have lived together (CGS 46b-38a). It also provides directives and guidelines to the police and the court on how to handle family violence cases.

The procedure for obtaining relief from domestic violence is the same now as it was under both spousal and family abuse (CGS 46b-15). But a judge may transfer the case to the criminal or civil docket if he deems it more suitable for disposition (CGS 46b-2). The law allows the court to order an investigation of any circumstances that may be helpful, material, or relevant to a proper case disposition, including an inquiry into home conditions and causes of marital discord (CGS 46b-6). Whenever an investigation is ordered an investigative report must be filed with the court and provide to counsel for full examination before the case is heard (CGS 46b-7).

The relief that the court may grant is the same as it was under prior law, except the court may extent its 90-day order upon the applicant's motion for any additional time the court deems necessary (CGS 46b-15(c) and (d)).

The Family Violence Act goes beyond the prior law by providing that law enforcement agencies be made aware of the court order. After the court grants a restraining or protective order, the law requires it to provide two certified copies of the order to the applicant, one to the court's family division, and one to the respondent. The court must also file a certified copy of the order with the appropriate law enforcement agency within 48 hours of its issuance. The family relations division must provide a registry of all protective and restraining orders in force and notify peace officers of the status of the orders.

Police Behavior

The law prohibits the police from taking into account the victim's relationship to the suspect and whether the victim wants the suspect arrested when making their decision whether to arrest. Additionally, the police are prohibited from discouraging requests for police intervention in domestic violence cases by threatening to or suggesting that they will arrest both the victim and the suspect (CGS 46b-38b(a)).

Family Violence Response and Intervention Units

The law requires the Judicial Department, via the Family Relations Division of the Superior court, to establish a family violence intervention unit in all geographical areas. The units must be coordinated and governed by a formal agreement between the Judicial Department and the chief state's attorney, which is within the Division of Criminal Justice. The law requires the family intervention units to:

1. accept referrals of family violence cases from a judge or prosecutor,

2. prepare written or oral reports on each case for the court,

3. provide or arrange for services to victims and offenders,

4. administer contracts to carry out these services,

5. provide monitoring systems for all restraining orders, and

6. establish centralized reporting procedures (CGS 46b-38c).

Pretrial Family Violence Education Program

The law creates a pretrial family violence education program for people who are charged with family violence crimes. When a person is charged with such a crime, he can ask the court to place him in the program. If the defendant successfully completes the program, the charges are dismissed. In order to qualify for the for the program, certain conditions must be present.

1. The crime he is charged with must be no more serious than a misdemeanor, or, if there is good cause, a class D felony. Thus, for example,, a person charged with first degree assault or risk of injury to a minor would be ineligible; a person charged with second degree assault would be eligible only if good cause were shown.

2. The defendant must not have previously taken the program.

3. The defendant must not have been convicted of, or accepted accelerated rehabilitation for, a family violence crime committed after October 1, 1996.

The act requires the court to notify the victim of the defendant's request for the program and, if possible, to give the victim an opportunity to be heard. Additionally, the court can postpone its decision on acceptance into the program until it gets a report from a family violence intervention unit. The defendant must, if he is able, pay a $200 fee to the court to take the program. The money goes to the general fund (CGS 46b-38c).


The law requires the municipal police training council, in conjunction with the Division of Criminal Justice, to set up guidelines and training programs for law enforcement officers handling family violence incidents. The training must (1) stress the enforcement of the criminal law in these cases and the use of community resources and (2) include the nature and extent of family violence, the legal rights and remedies available to victims, and techniques for handling these cases by minimizing the likelihood of injury to the officers (CGS 46b-38b(f)).


The law specifies that the police are not to be held civilly liable for personal or property injury when the action is brought by “any party to the family violence" and the cause of action is for an arrest based on probable cause, good-faith enforcement of a court order, or good-faith victim's assistance (CGS 46b-38b(c)).


The law requires the police to assist the victim in obtaining medical treatment, and to inform the victim of his right to file for an arrest, his rights as a victim, the services available to victims, and transportation to those services. Additionally, when the police cannot make an arrest because they do not have probable cause, they have to explain why and stay on the scene until the likelihood of imminent violence has been eliminated (CGS 46b-38b).


The law establishes family violence response and intervention units. The chief state's attorney must supervise them. Daily operations must be governed by formal agreement between the chief state's attorney and the Judicial Department. Direct operations must be overseen by the family relations division of each geographical area. These units must accept case referrals, prepare reports on each case for the court, prepare or arrange for victim and offender services, administer contracts to carry out services, and establish centralized reporting procedures (CGS 46b-38c).


The law requires peace officers to complete a family-violence offense report, whether or not an arrest is made. The report has to include, among other things, the names of the parties, ages, sex, weapons used, and the existence of substance abuse (CGS 46b-38d).

The law requires medical providers to submit a report to the Department of Public Safety whenever either the patient says he was the victim of family violence or the medical provider has reasonable cause to believe so. These reports do not contain the patient's name. The family division must also maintain a statistical summary of all family violence cases referred to the family violence intervention units. The summary must include the number of family violence cases referred to the units, the nature of the cases, and the charges and disposition (CGS 46b-38f).