Understanding Wisconsin’s "no-contact" law in domestic abuse cases

Allegations of domestic abuse are taken quite seriously in Wisconsin. Indeed, Wisconsin law even requires the mandatory arrest of any individual reasonably believed to have committed domestic abuse. In many cases, mere accusations of abuse may be enough to result in arrest.

However, if an individual finds himself or herself under arrest for domestic abuse, he or she also needs to be aware of Wisconsin's no-contact law. As its name implies, this law essentially requires an arrested individual to avoid contacting his or her alleged victim after being released from police custody. Notably, violating this provision can result in severe penalties. Therefore, it is typically advisable for those accused of domestic violence in Wisconsin to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of this particular law, or risk an inadvertent violation as well as potentially large fines and/or jail time.

No contact if arrested for domestic abuse in Wisconsin

Wisconsin law defines domestic abuse quite broadly. For instance, it may be considered domestic abuse when an individual commits any of the following acts against his or her current or former spouse:

  • The intentional infliction of physical pain or injury
  • The intentional impairment of physical condition
  • Any act that may cause a person to reasonably fear the imminent engagement in any of the above acts

However, domestic abuse is not limited solely to acts committed between spouses and ex-spouses. Indeed, under Wisconsin law, domestic abuse can also include acts of aggression between current and past household members or even between adults who simply have a child in common.

If an individual is ultimately arrested for any of these enumerated prohibited acts - and subsequently released from custody - Wisconsin law states that he or she must have no contact with the alleged victim for at least three days. Specifically, the relevant statute states:

[D]uring the 72 hours immediately following an arrest for a domestic abuse incident, the arrested person shall avoid the residence of the alleged victim of the domestic abuse incident and, if applicable, any premises temporarily occupied by the alleged victim, and avoid contacting or causing any person [...] to contact the alleged victim.

As this provision makes clear, not only is direct contact prohibited between the parties following a domestic abuse arrest, but the arrested individual also cannot have a third party contact the alleged victim. The purpose of this particular no-contact rule is to allow a cooling-off period for the parties.

If an individual intentionally violates Wisconsin's no-contact law, he or she may face up to 9 months in jail or a $10,000 fine, or both.

What locations must an individual avoid under Wisconsin's no-contact law?

Importantly, not only is domestic abuse defined broadly in Wisconsin, but state courts have interpreted the no-contact statute quite broadly as well - particularly when determining what specific locations an individual must avoid after being released following a domestic abuse arrest.

For instance, Wisconsin's no-contact law dictates that an arrested individual must avoid an alleged victim's residence as well as "any premises temporarily occupied" by the alleged victim. While it is typically easy to determine - and thus avoid - an individual's physical residence, it is significantly harder to know all of the locations this person may temporarily occupy.

One court in Wisconsin has even interpreted the phrase "any premises temporarily occupied" to encompass common areas of an apartment building in which an alleged victim is living. In this particular case, the court was asked to determine whether or not an individual arrested for domestic abuse violated Wisconsin's no-contact law when he opened the security door of his wife's apartment building, entered into the hallway and spoke to a neighbor. Ultimately, the court decided that common areas within apartment buildings, including hallways, must be avoided since the alleged victim has a right to use these areas.

Keep in mind, under this particular standard, an individual may be in violation of Wisconsin's no-contact law even if he or she does not have any actual contact with an alleged victim. Indeed, a violation may be found simply by entering an area in which the alleged victim has a right to use, such an apartment hallway. If anything, this case illustrates the fine line that cannot be crossed when an individual is subject the state's no-contact law.

Defenses to no-contact violations: waiver or failed notice

When an individual is accused of violating the no-contact law, it can often be challenging to present a legal defense, but that does not mean none exist. For instance, the law expressly states that if the alleged victim signs the requisite waiver, the prohibitions against contact no longer apply - meaning the arrested individual cannot be in violation of the law if he or she contacts the alleged victim. Under Wisconsin law, this waiver can be signed at any time during the 72-hour no-contact period.

In addition, upon release, police are required to provide notice of certain information to the arrested individual. This notice, which must be presented both orally and in writing, needs to include:

  • The requirements of the state's 72-hour no-contact provision
  • The consequences for violating the no-contact provision, including possible jail time and a fine
  • The increased penalties for repeat domestic abuse offenders, including the penalties for engaging in domestic abuse during the 72-hour no-contact period (regardless of whether the alleged victim has signed a waiver)

Importantly, if police fail to provide this notice, the arrested individual cannot be prosecuted for violating the state's no-contact law.

Legal assistance is often a necessity

Ultimately, if arrested for domestic violence, it is crucial for an individual to know the implications of not only the criminal charges but also the state's no-contact law. In fact, if you are facing charges related to domestic violence and wish to learn what your rights and options may be, it is best to contact an attorney experienced in domestic violence defense, such as Stephen Govin. Given the complexities of this area of the law, it is more important than ever to seek the counsel of an attorney who can help develop the strongest defense possible. Contact Stephen today at 414-395-5620.