MY LIBERAL FRIENDS (and yes, I DO have liberal friends) are declaring how nasty Seminole County FL judge Jerri Collins had the chutzpah (gall, nerve) to sentence a battered bride to jail for failing to appear when she was supposed to.
From MEDIAite " Jeanne Gold, CEO of the SafeHouse organization, told WTFV that Judge Collins’ actions were “appalling” and “horrible.” She also expressed her worry that the judge’s shaming of the victim in court could possibly discourage her from ever calling the police again."
But let us consider the whole picture.
First of all, none of the on-line reports I saw mentioned the victim's name.
According to the Orlando Sentinel (a paper for which I once worked), Gold said that,"I can't blame the state for wanting to get a bad guy, but you cannot lean on a victim of domestic violence to solve the societal issues in our world, It's so unfair, and it just shows that there is a lot more education needed."
Time after time, victims of domestic abuse - both men and women - call the cops who come and separate the combatants and one or the other of the battlers makes a formal complaint.
- Domestic calls are one of the most dangerous for responding officers; most departments require at least two officers to respond. I know this because I once covered the police beat for several newspapers in several states, and because my First Born is a cop.
I think the judge was correct in her actions, particularly in light of the victim's reason for ignoring the order to appear.
From the Sentinel: "Prosecutors in Phil Archer's State Attorney's Office said it is rare for domestic-violence victims to be jailed for contempt of court, but it happens for different reasons.
"Archer defended his office's actions saying the woman's reluctance to testify against her attacker was a "decision to thwart the court process by refusing to cooperate" by testifying against a man who has a prior domestic-violence conviction.
"When she filed a police report in April, the woman said she wanted to press charges after her assailant choked her, pressed his thumbs against her eyes and came at her with a knife, according to an arrest report."
- MEDIAite reported that the abuser "allegedly choked her and threatened her with a kitchen knife. He was charged with simple battery and spent 16 days in jail, but when his trial date arrived, the victim was nowhere to be found. Hence the contempt of court hearing."
"But a month before the trial, she expressed reservations about testifying against her assailant, the notes show. And the week before jury selection, she said she wanted nothing to do with the case."
The victim told the judge that that she wanted to separate from her attacker; spending three days in jail certainly would accomplish that.
There are several things to consider.
- Is it possible or probable that her attacker threatened her with more harm if she testified? Unless he was incarcerated - unlikely since there had yet to be a trial - that's possible.
- Was she concerned her complaint would fail to withstand a defense attorney's challenges? The district attorney apparently thought that - based on the woman's testimony - the state could make a winning case.
- Many, many victims "bail out" at the last minute because they know the law will pity them and ignore the fact that an abuser remains on the loose, to terrorize the victim - and perhaps others - again and again.
The assailant, without the victim's testimony, was sentenced to only 16 days in county jail. Sixteen days, despite a history of recidivism.
According to Gold, "She (the victim) never will call again. Look what happened to her. She could be lying, broken in a ditch somewhere, and she would probably not call police because of what happened to her in this place.”
I have to partially agree with Gold; since her abuser was put away for only two weeks and two days the woman must relocate to avoid retaliation, even though she elected not to testify. She won't call the police because the police now know that even if they rescue her again, she won't help get the abuser off the streets. She knows it. The cops know it. The DA's office knows it. Worse, the abuser knows it.
Perhaps if victims understand they must follow up and assist the prosecution or face a brief period behind bars, they will do what is necessary to get abusers off the streets.
Putting the victim behind bars protected her from the abuser's friends where lesser punishments would leave her at the mercy of friends of the abuser.
In Gold's opinion, “To put her in jail was ridiculous,” she added. “Even if they were so angry... why not give her community service hours [at a local shelter]? She could be with women here who are going through the same thing she is.”
The victim, who said she is penniless and trying to raise a one-year-old on her own, still has the option of going to a shelter after leaving the county jail.
Found on the WWW