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New law expands domestic violence protections to dating relationships

A new law expanding domestic violence protections to dating couples reflects the modern reality that relationships have many forms and abuse can occur in any of them, a state official said.

“Protection of people is more important than the status of relationship,” said Greg Stanton, a deputy attorney general who helped push for the change.

The law, which took effect last month, adds dating relationships to a list that already included those who are married, living together or related by blood and those who have a child together. Arizona joined 43 other states whose domestic violence laws apply to dating couples.

Kendra Leiby, systems advocacy coordinator for the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said women ages 16 to 24, a group more likely to be in dating relationships, are three times more likely than any other to be abused.

“Couples in that age group are not likely to live together or have a child, so this was clearly a significant gap in our laws,” Leiby said.

In 2008, Arizona had one of the nation’s highest rates for homicides involving domestic violence, Leiby said, adding that 27 such deaths that year involved dating relationships.

Supporters nicknamed the measure “Kaity’s Law” after Kaitlyn Sudberry, a Phoenix high school student shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend, Daniel Byrd, in a January 2008 murder-suicide. The high school reported to police days before her death that Byrd had roughed up Sudberry, drawing a suspension, according to a police report that classified the case as assault.

Sgt. Roger Heinrich, one of the officers who investigated the assault, said the department couldn’t comment on the case because a lawsuit was pending.

Bobbi Sudberry, Kaitlyn’s stepmother, said her family sought an order of protection but was limited under the previous law to requesting an injunction of harassment, a court order that bars a person from harassing another. An order of protection, which under the new law is available to those in dating relationships, gives authorities more power in abuse cases, including confiscating firearms from the accused.

The injunction, which can take days to process, wasn’t served before Kaitlyn’s death, according to court records.

“When I heard that the law had passed, a part of me thought I should be jumping through the roof with happiness, but I had mixed emotions,” Bobbi Sudberry said. “Honestly, a part of me was also deeply saddened that we had paid the ultimate price.”

Sen. Jonathan Paton, A Tucson Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, authored the law, saying Kaitlyn’s case exposed a gap in Arizona’s domestic violence protections.

“An injunction against harassment wasn’t adequate in Kaity’s case. She should have been able to get an order for protection,” Paton said. “This law won’t bring Kaity back, but I’m confident it will save lives in the future and prevent the kind of heartache the Sudberry family has had to endure.”

Under the new law, the assault against Kaitlyn would have been investigated as domestic violence, Leiby said. The law also exposes abusers in dating relationships to stiffer punishment and behavioral intervention programs tailored to domestic abuse rather than anger management, she said.

“We’re hoping this law is going to hold perpetrators accountable and ensure there are fewer cases like Kaity’s,” Leiby said. “We hope this will help police officers interject before the abuse is irreversible.”

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