This can’t be what court had in mind

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The Idaho Supreme Court’s recent ruling on police and misdemeanor crimes carries potentially deadly consequences.

The court’s intention is understandable. Based on a Hayden case involving an alleged groping incident at Honeysuckle Beach, jurists want a high standard for misdemeanor arrests. They determined that an officer needs either a warrant or must witness the misdemeanor crime to be able to make an arrest.

A reader on cdapress.com summed up what others certainly are thinking:

“I like this law. [Officers] are always looking for a reason to arrest someone. Maybe this will stop cops from arresting people without just cause.”

But this newspaper’s editorial board sees a little bit of good from the ruling overshadowed by potential disaster. Particularly in domestic violence cases, where a misdemeanor arrest might de-escalate an otherwise explosive situation, an important preventive tool is being taken away from police.

Consider this scenario:

Police are called to a home where a terrified wife is being threatened by her husband. She bears no visible marks showing violence has occurred (although that by no means is proof he hasn’t been physical with her), and after talking to both parties, the officer lacks cause to make a felony arrest. As a possible misdemeanor, then, the officer has two options: Go get a warrant or cite the husband.

Think about that for just a moment. The husband is already furious with his wife. An officer shows up, which often elicits more anger from some people leaning toward violent behavior. The officer then writes up the husband, which could escalate emotions further, holding them in check only until the officer has left.

The concern from leading victim advocates and other experts is that the possibility of harm or even death is likely to increase in this scenario, where forced separation for a cooling-off period can preserve peace — and maybe even life.

We don’t believe for a minute that increased danger to potential victims is what the court intended, so we join law enforcement and victim advocates in calling for the state to request a rehearing before the court. If the request is denied or the court does not change its decision, the next option is a possible legislative remedy. Because the Supreme Court based its decision on the Idaho Constitution, a constitutional amendment would be the final possible solution. But the standard for that is extremely high: two-thirds approval in both the Idaho House and Senate, then a majority vote of the people.

A rehearing before the court makes the most sense. For the sake of avoiding outrage that can result in murder, we beg the court to reconsider.

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