Criminal Histories of Intimate Partner Homicide Offenders

Zeoli, A.M., Kwiatkowski, C.C., Wallin, M.A., & Brown, K. (2021).
Homicide Studies, 1 – 19.
Type of Profession:
Expanded Abstract: 

After decades of a steady decline in the frequency of intimate partner homicide (IPH) in the United States, IPH has begun an alarming upward climb (Fridel & Fox, 2019). There is also increasing concern regarding IPHs that include additional fatal victims. One study estimated that 20% of all victims of intimate partner-related homicides were non-intimates killed in addition to the intimate partner (Smith et al., 2014) while another suggested that 32% of mass shooting events from 2014 through 2017 involved the killing of the shooter’s intimate partner (Zeoli & Paruk, 2020). Together, these data suggest that the scope of the IPH problem is broadening.

The main risk factor for IPH is prior intimate partner violence against the female partner (Bailey et al., 1997; Campbell et al., 2003; Smith et al., 1998). In particular, firearm access among male partners with a history of intimate partner violence is a critical risk factor for IPH of the female partner (Campbell et al., 2003), underscoring a logical target for IPH intervention. The criminal justice system, therefore, may be able to intervene before the intimate partner violence becomes lethal and prevent future homicide through targeted firearm prohibitions. However, the criminal justice system can only put legal restrictions for access to firearms in place if the abusive intimate partner is involved in the system and convicted of a disqualifying crime. Therefore, it is important to examine whether and to what extent individuals who committed IPH had contact with the criminal justice system prior to the homicide.

This study investigates criminal histories among IPH offenders to explore whether there are opportunities for criminal justice system intervention prior to a homicide being committed. Data were collected from the Michigan Violent Death Reporting System and Michigan State Police for the 117 IPHs committed in 2014 and 2015 in Michigan. Descriptive statistics on types of criminal charges and convictions for the 103 IPHs committed by aggressors (e.g., not in self-defense) are presented, with relatively few domestic violence charges or convictions. Twenty-nine percent of offenders had no criminal history.

Findings highlight a need for more effective and greater implementation of interventions for both criminal justice system-involved and not-involved offenders.

(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above)