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Specialized no-contact order deemed unconstitutional in Minnesota

Issues of domestic abuse are emotionally charged matters that need to be handled with the utmost care by the justice system. There are measures in place that protect the victim in a domestic abuse situation from further harm, such as restraining orders or emergency motions to keep children safe. One of these motions is called a domestic abuse no-contact order.

Known as DANCOs, they were part of a Minnesota law passed in 2000 that applies harsh penalties to abusers and allows law enforcement to seek the protective motion without a victim's consent. This expedites the process of getting the order, as sometimes the victim does not want to seek legal protection from their abusive partner.

More standard no-contact orders slap the violator on the wrist, with a possible misdemeanor contempt of court offense and maybe some jail time. Violating a DANCO, however, could get a violator charged with a felony, leading to a prison sentence that could reach five years.

DANCOs are also considered part of criminal statutes as opposed to civil matters and they do not pertain to the conditions of jail release. That latter provision keeps the accused from posting a higher bail to get out of jail with no release conditions.

However, in November 2011 a defendant successfully appealed that a DANCO issued against him violated his right to due process. DANCO hearings occur after arraignment, and normally a defendant does not have an attorney ready at that juncture. Thus, they have no way to introduce evidence or witnesses because judges will not allow the accused to potentially incriminate themselves. In this man's case, the DANCO was ruled unconstitutional.

As a result of this dispute, judges in Clay County, Minnesota are bypassing DANCOs and issuing standard no-contact orders. While the courts settle the constitutionality of DANCOs, domestic violence victims are in the awkward position of having less protective options against their abusive partner.

Source: Bemidji Pioneer, "Bemidji case prompts judge to seek appeals court ruling on domestic abuse no-contact orders," Mike Nowatzki, Mar. 4, 2012

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