Community Supervision of Domestic Violence OffendersCommunity Supervision of Domestic Violence Offenders

Weapons Forfeiture Survey Results


The Weapons Forfeiture survey was designed to elicit qualitative information about the probation and parole policies and procedures that are followed when domestic violence offenders are known to possess weapons. It was sent via email on June 27, 2001, to 92 addressees selected from among the respondents to an earlier survey on Programs that Sentence and Supervise Batterers. Only those who provided an email address and identified themselves as being a probation, parole, or probation/parole agency were targeted to receive the weapons forfeiture survey.

By August 6, 2001, we had received 20 responses to this survey. Because our sample was neither large nor randomly selected, and because only a small number of recipients responded, the following report is merely a synopsis of the information we have been provided. It is not intended to be considered representative of the policies and procedures followed by probation/parole offices across the nation.

Question 1: Is an investigation of weapons possession and licenses to carry weapons included in the process of making decisions about pretrial release of domestic violence defendants? Is the victim’s input about weapons solicited?

Two agencies said that pretrial release investigations are handled by pretrial release officers. Seven reported that authorities other than the responding probation/parole agencies (i.e., Court, county attorney, law enforcement, diversion programs) handle these investigations. Three respondents said that weapons possession and licenses to carry weapons are not considerations in the pretrial release of defendants.

Only two agencies reported that input about weapons is actively solicited from victims, and one said victims could volunteer information. One stated that this information is not solicited from victims. Sixteen of the 20 respondent agencies did not answer the question; two said it is not applicable to them.

For a breakdown of the responses received to this question, see Table 1. Because the total number of responses is very small, percentages shown in the tables included in this report may not be an accurate depiction when applied to larger samples. 

TABLE 1

Is an investigation of weapons possession and licenses to carry weapons included in the process of making decisions about pretrial release of domestic violence defendants? Is the victim’s input about weapons solicited?

# % Responses re: investigating weapons possession/ licenses to carry
2 10 Yes, pretrial release officers investigate weapons possession/licenses
 
1
3
1
1
1
 
5
15
5
5
5
Yes, but it is handled by another authority:
County Attorney (presentence)
Court/Magistrate/Judge/Jail
Law Enforcement
Pretrial Diversion Program
 Prosecutor
3 15 No, this is not included in pretrial release considerations
1 5 No, beyond asking about the use of a weapon (victim/police reports)
2 10 N/A
4 20 No response
    Responses re: soliciting victim's input
2 10 Yes
1 5  Input may be volunteered
1 5 No
16 80 No response


Question 2: Is an investigation of weapons possession included in presentence investigations and/or as part of the initial procedures when an offender is placed on probation? Is the victim’s input about weapons solicited?

Answers to this question are summarized below (Table 2). Nine respondents reported that weapons possession is included in presentence investigations and/or as part of their initial probation procedures. Five said it is not included, and one said this information is obtained only if the victim offers it during the PSI interview. Three did not respond to the question, and two said it is not applicable to them.

Victim input is solicited by seven of the responding agencies during the presentence phase. Two agencies include victim input if the victim contacts the officer or if a Victim Impact Statement is ordered as part of the PSI. Eight agencies did not respond to this question, and one said it is not applicable to them.

TABLE 2

Is an investigation of weapons possession and included in presentence investigations and/or as part of the initial procedures when an offender is placed on probation? Is the victim’s input about weapons solicited?

# % Responses re: investigating weapons possession 
9 45 Yes
1 5 Yes, when victim advises PSI Officer
5 25 No
2 10 N/A
3 15 No response
    Responses re: soliciting victim's input
7 35 Yes
1 5 Yes, if victim initiates contact
1 5 Yes, if Victim Impact Statement is ordered as part of PSI
2 10 No
1 5 N/A
8 40 No response

Question 3: Do conditions of probation or parole release include requirements that offenders must forfeit their weapons and licenses for them?

As seen in Table 3, weapons/license forfeiture is included in probation or parole conditions by 14 of the 20 responding agencies. One of these agencies said forfeiture is included only if it is court-ordered or if there is no third party to take control of the weapon. Of the four agencies who said this condition is not included, three indicated that forfeiture is otherwise covered; e.g., by state laws prohibiting convicted felons from possessing firearms/weapons. One jurisdiction clarified that, although felons are prohibited from having weapons, misdemeanants are allowed to possess them with the approval of their supervising officer. Two agencies did not respond to this question.

Only two of the 20 responding agencies addressed the issue of license forfeiture. One said that, beyond state law prohibiting convicted felons from possessing a firearm, there is no probation condition requiring license forfeiture. The other commented that licenses become a moot point, since it is a violation for a convicted felon to possess a weapon.

TABLE 3

Do conditions of probation or parole release include requirements that offenders must forfeit their weapons and licenses for them?

# % Responses re: weapons forfeiture
14 70 Yes
4 20 No
2 10 No response
    Responses re: license forfeiture
2 10 No
18 90 No response

Question 4: How is the relinquishment or seizure of weapons from probationers or parolees handled in your jurisdiction?

Of the 20 survey respondents, nine reported that law enforcement (police/sheriff) is responsible for handling the seizure/relinquishment of weapons in their jurisdictions (see Table 4). Two said that the probation/parole office handles it. In two jurisdictions, offenders are allowed to dispose of weapons themselves. The honor system is used in one jurisdiction, where the status of weapons is only checked when relinquishment is court-ordered. Two respondents said this question is not applicable to them, and four did not respond at all.

TABLE 4

How is the relinquishment or seizure of weapons from probationers or parolees handled in your jurisdiction?

# % Responses
9 45 Received/seized by law enforcement (police/sheriff’s department)
2 10 Received/seized by probation/parole office
2 10 Offender disposes of own weapons (sells/gives away)
1 5 Honor system – status not checked unless relinquishment/seizure court-ordered
2 10 N/A
4 20 No response

Question 5: Are searches conducted of domestic violence offenders’ homes, vehicles, and other places (e.g., employment) to look for weapons?

Eight of the 20 respondents reported that they do not conduct weapons searches, and ten said that they do (see Table 5). Seven of the 10 agencies that conduct searches do so only when there is evidence of possession, or reasonable suspicion/probable cause, or when weapons were not forfeited as ordered. One agency added that they may search when there is evidence of a weapons possession violation, provided the offender consents to the search. The offender may refuse to allow the search and can withdraw his permission during the search; however, he can be taken into custody if the search is not allowed.

One agency did not offer a response to this question, and one said it is not applicable to them.

TABLE 5

Are searches conducted of domestic violence offenders’ homes, vehicles, and other places (e.g., employment) to look for weapons?

# % Responses
3 15 Yes
5 25 Yes, upon reasonable suspicion/probable cause
1 5 Yes, if weapons are not forfeited as ordered
1 5 Yes, if offender consents to search
8 40 No
1 5 N/A
1 5 No response

Question 6: What is done with weapons that are relinquished by or seized from parolees and probationers? How and where are they stored? How long are they kept? When can they be returned or disposed of? Are they ever returned to the probationers or parolees?

As shown in Table 6, seven of the 13 agencies that responded to the question of where weapons are stored said that they turn them over to law enforcement for storage. Others reported that weapons were stored by the District Attorney’s office, kept by the probation/parole office itself, placed into evidence, or sold/transferred to a third party by the offender. Two did not know what happened to the weapons (handled by another authority); three said the question is not applicable to them; and three did not respond to the question.

As to how long weapons are kept after being seized or relinquished, one agency reported that weapons are not returned until ordered by the court; another keeps weapons until the forfeiture order expires. In Minnesota, state law requires that weapons be held for three years.

Only five respondents addressed the issue of returning or disposing of weapons. One said that weapons may be returned if the conviction is expunged, and four reported that they return weapons to offenders at the end of the supervision period.

TABLE 6

What is done with weapons that are relinquished or seized from parolees and probationers? How and where are they stored? How long are they kept? When can they be returned or disposed of? Are they ever returned to the probationers or parolees?

# % Responses re: Storage
7 35 Turned over to law enforcement
2 10 Held at probation/parole office
2 10 Transferred to a third party or stored for offender by a third party
1 5 Stored by District Attorney
1 5 Placed into evidence
2 10 Unknown
3 15 N/A
3 15 No response
    Responses re: Length of Storage
1 5 Three years (per state law)
1 5 Until return is court-ordered
1 5 Until forfeiture order expires
17 85  No response
    Responses re: Return/Disposal
4 20 May be returned to offender when supervision terminates
1 5 May be returned if conviction is expunged
15 75 No response


Question 7: Do you work with law enforcement agencies, courts, prosecutors, domestic violence organizations, or others regarding the issue of weapons possession by probationers or parolees?

Eleven respondents said that they do work with these agencies regarding weapons possession, and one said they work with police if the Court orders them to do so. Three reported that they do not work with these agencies, one said the question is not applicable to them, and two did not respond (see Table 7). One responded that the question was unclear, adding that they “…are a probation/parole department that is a court department.” 

TABLE 7

Do you work with law enforcement agencies, courts, prosecutors, domestic violence organizations, or others regarding the issue of weapons possession by probationers or parolees?

# % Responses
12 60 Yes
3 15 No
1 5 N/A
4 20 No response

Question 8: Do you take any special safety precautions for officers, victims, or others when dealing with probationers or parolees who have weapons, and particularly when seizing those weapons?

Three respondents reported that there are no special safety precautions taken, one said they did not know. One agency said the question is not applicable to them, and four did not respond (see Table 8). However, 11 agencies indicated that safety precautions are taken; for example:

officers are armed (lethal and non-lethal)
officers are equipped with caged cars for arresting violating offenders
officers have received weapons training
officers have protective vests/body armor
police accompany P/P officers on searches
police are trained to handle/defuse volatile situations
searches are planned and coordinated with law enforcement
home visits are discouraged in cases where weapons are present
victims communicate their safety concerns
have weapons-free courthouse to avert danger to P/P officers

TABLE 8

Do you take any special safety precautions for officers, victims, or others when dealing with probationers or parolees who have weapons, and particularly when seizing those weapons?

# % Responses
11 55 Yes
3 15 No
1 5 Unknown
1 5 N/A
4 20 No response

Question 9: Have you explored issues of liability regarding domestic violence offenders and weapons possession in your jurisdiction?

As seen in Table 9, only six agencies reported that they have explored liability issues, with one clarifying that they have not done so specifically for domestic violence. Such issues have not been explored in nine of the responding jurisdictions. Three agencies did not respond to this question. One of the two agencies that said the question is not applicable to them commented, “…this is a non-issue, as our offenders are not legally permitted to be in possession of any weapon.”

 

TABLE 9

Have you explored issues of liability regarding domestic violence offenders and weapons possession in your jurisdiction?

# % Responses
6 30 Yes
9 45 No
2 10 N/A
3 15 No response

Question 10: Do you have any special policies or practices that are observed if the domestic violence offender is an employee of the justice system (e.g., law enforcement officer, probation officer)?

More than half of the responding agencies (12) reported that they do not have special policies or practices for handling justice system employees who are domestic violence offenders (see Table 10). Two of these agencies explained that employees are treated the same as any domestic violence offender.

One Probation/Parole agency replied that they had “…never run into this issue. If it were a person in our office, they would no longer be employed by us and we would request courtesy supervision of the case by the State Board of Parole.”

Another agency said that although there are no special policies, in the past a Sheriff’s Deputy had been placed on bond supervision, released from the department and surrendered his weapon to the Sheriff.

Lastly, one respondent who said that there are no special policies in place volunteered that his state’s diversion programs can be used to allow a police officer to retain his firearm for work, because no formal conviction occurs.

Four agencies reported that they do have special policies/procedures for handling employees who are domestic violence offenders. One said that their policy (which applies only to DOC employees and not to those employed elsewhere in the system) includes reporting requirements and notification of chain of command, as decided on a case-by-case basis. Another said that police policy precludes any law enforcement officer adjudicated for a domestic violence offense from having firearms.

Two respondents said that they did not know the answer to this question, one said it is not applicable, and one did not respond.

 

TABLE 10

Do you have any special policies or practices that are observed if the domestic violence offender is an employee of the justice system (e.g., law enforcement officer, probation officer)?

# % Responses
4 20 Yes
12 60 No
2 10 Unknown
1 5 N/A
1 5 No response

As noted at the beginning of this report, the sample for this survey was neither large nor random. Due to these limitations, the information collected cannot be seen as representative of all probation/parole offices. However, the wide range of responses and the lack of consensus seen among the 20 responding agencies indicate a need for further study of this important issue.

 

This Web site is supported by grant number 2001-WT-BX-K011 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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