Dual Arrest Essay

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Dual arrest refers to the practice of arresting both parties involved in a domestic violence incident at the same time. This practice has increased as mandatory and preferred arrest policies have been implemented, and occurs when police cannot, or choose not to, determine the primary aggressor in a domestic violence incident. Police may choose dual arrest if both parties show evidence of having been injured, or when they only have the word of both parties, each stating that the other was the aggressor. Thus, the decision of guilt is left to the court system. It is unknown if dual arrest is a result of strict adherence to the word of mandatory or preferred arrest policies, a backlash to the policies, or indicative of bias or prejudice that leads to over-enforcement.

Dual arrest rates vary widely across states, comprising between 11% and 50% of arrests, since the implementation of mandatory arrest. Police departments argue that dual arrests must occur because police officers have a responsibility to arrest when there is any evidence that a crime has been committed. Additionally, police officers report wanting both parties to be mandated into counseling for the relationship. Research indicates that decisions to arrest are frequently based on officers’ attitudes and moral judgments that determine their perceptions of blame, justifications for violence, and believability of the accounts of the incidents.

The picture of males arrested in a dual arrest is significantly different from that of dually arrested women, using research based on heterosexual couples. Males are significantly less likely than females to have been a domestic violence victim in the preceding 2 years. They are also more likely to have a history of domestic violence arrests than are females. This supports the belief that most women arrested for domestic violence are acting in self-defense or retaliation from prior abuse.

When women are arrested for domestic violence, it is often in the context of dual arrest. Alcohol or other drug use is significantly more likely to be involved in dual arrest cases than single arrest cases. Women are typically charged with minor offenses, such as disorderly conduct or breach of peace, in these incidents. The arrests rarely result in prosecution, with only half the prosecutions of single arrest cases. These findings support the perspective that many of these women are arrested unjustifiably or due to violent behavior that is a response to ongoing victimization by a partner. This is not to say that women are never the primary aggressor, or that they never initiate violence. However, with the high consequences of arrest, such as emotional ramifications, financial burdens, and social stigma, as well as cost for the legal system, police should take seriously their role in determining the primary aggressor when making decisions to arrest.


  1. Feder, L., & Henning, K. (2005). A comparison of male and female dually arrested domestic violence offenders. Violence and Victims, 20, 153–171.
  2. Martin, M. E. (1997). Double your trouble: Dual arrest in family violence. Journal of Family Violence, 12, 139–157.

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