Gwen’s Law helps fight against domestic violence

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Schuyler Marvin
Schuyler Marvin

Domestic abuse is prevalent in Louisiana, with some saying the state has led the nation in domestic homicides since 1997.

That’s according to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Statistics they provided show that 178 victims of abuse died between 2010 and 2012, and 74 percent of them were shot to death.

With the implementation of a series of laws, called “Gwen’s Law,” Webster Parish District Attorney Schuyler Marvin says the law has come a long way in bringing public attention to the issue.

“What that law has done is there is none of this slapping your spouse or household member around and then posting bail before the sun comes up,” Marvin said. “People are actually staying in jail not allowed to immediately post bond, and it causes the court system to take a hard look at the defendant and the situation because the hearing is centered around the perpetrator’s prior bad acts.”

They look at whether they are repeat offenders, whether children are present, whether weapons were used, whether the person has threatened others previously or threatened suicide prior to this event and generally the severity of the situation that provoked the current arrest, he says.

Another benefit, he says, is it causes law enforcement to have to submit a written report to the district attorney’s office within 24 hours, including weekends.

Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton says the new law, once everyone understands what it means, will act as a stronger deterrent to offenders.
“It’s an expensive law to those who have the monitoring device,” he said. “They have to pay for this. Before they can bond out of jail, this company has to come and actually put that monitoring device on this individual, and they have to pay for it out of their pocket. And if you don’t put that monitor on, you don’t leave Bayou Dorcheat Correctional Center.”

He says the cost of the device is somewhere around $350 plus whatever court costs and bond the individual must pay. In addition, he says, the company charges about $10 per day, which adds up to about $300 per month the individual must pay to stay out of jail.

“I think there’s some good strategy in the law,” he continued. “The brunt of the Gwen’s law falls on the judges’ shoulders…the judge has to make a determination whether that individual wears a monitoring device or not. If the judge does not stipulate in open court that a monitoring device is necessary, then we don’t put a monitoring device on him.”

If one is deemed necessary, Sexton says, then they call a company out of Tyler, Texas to come to Webster Parish and install the device on the individual. He says there are two kinds of devices, one that is instantaneous and one for every 24 hours. The sheriff prefers the instantaneous device because they know where the individual is and whether they have stepped outside the boundaries of the device.

Gwen’s Law went into effect August 1, 2014. The law sets stronger restrictions on alleged perpetrators and strengthened the laws protecting victims.

The law came about following the shooting death of Gwen Cox Salley. In May 2014, Michael Salley, Gwen’s estranged husband, bonded out of jail on charges that he held her and their 7-year-old daughter at gunpoint and threatened to kill her. On May 2, he drove Gwen Salley to a dead-end road where he shot and killed her and himself.

The law also strengthens protective orders and requires a hearing within five days to determine whether bond will be granted.

Marvin says while it’s tough procedurally, he believes it’s a good law that has already saved lives.

“I believe that law has changed everything,” he said. “There have been people that have had a huge wakeup call that were repeat domestic violence offenders that now know this is not going to go the way it has gone before. So the public is well aware of that and it has caused some to pause before acting.”

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