Domestic Violence — The Other Side Of Zero Tolerance by Janeice T. Martin, Esq.

© 2002 Janeice T. Martin

Published in the Naples Daily News, Sunday, November 3, 2002

Reproduced with permission of the author

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Note that Janeice Martin became a Colliers County, Florida judge in February 2009.

All during October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we heard stories about the successes and failures of our current domestic violence system.

This newspaper, often critical of our judiciary and our outgoing state attorney, has told and retold a select few stories this year of how men, previously accused of domestic violence, have returned home to cause escalating harm, and even death, to their victims.

The system failed, the judges and prosecutors failed, we are told time and again. These elected officials failed to protect these victims from harm.

But we never hear the other sides of the stories from this system. We never hear of its many successes, such as when second chances are offered and seized, and a family is empowered to foster peace in its home. We never hear tell of the times where dogged investigation by both sides uncovers truth and exonerates one falsely accused. And most importantly, we never hear of the countless victims who are victimized daily by the very system built to protect them.

Consider the following very common scenario. Husband and wife have an argument. Maybe the wife calls the police because she wants help calming her husband down, or maybe a neighbor hears shouting and makes the call.

The police arrive, and as they question the husband and wife, it comes out that he grabbed her wrist as they argued.

He goes to jail.

The wife stays up all night, frantically trying to get someone to tell her how to stop this process. She is given information on shelters and injunctions, victims groups abound to aid her in his prosecution, but no one will tell her how to help her spouse. Importantly, she will not be told how to avoid him being ordered to have no contact with her until the case is over, possibly several months. She may be told that she has a constitutional right to be heard, but more than likely she'll learn that her "right" doesn't mean much, at least not if she wants to help her spouse.

If she's lucky, she'll eventually find out that she can post a bond to get him out of jail. Ironically, the judge will likely set a monetary bond of at least $2,500 in the name of protecting the victim and the community, which the victim will then post. But no matter who posts the bond, the dollar amount obviously bears no relation to anyone's safety.

So now, after bonding the husband out with the family's money (if there is any), she's going to take what's left over and get him a lawyer, because no one else will listen to her. Once the charges are filed, maybe the husband's lawyer can ask the court to allow the couple to regain contact. Unfortunately, it won't matter what really happened that night, or how capable she is of deciding for herself whether she needs protection — the court and the prosecutors can still say no. They can stand by and tell that victim that she doesn't really know what's best for her and her family. She is a victim — how can she possibly know what's best after what she's been through?

The sad truth is that there are victims, plenty of them, who have been through such domestic ordeals and are not in a position to judge clearly what is best at the time. But these are not the majority of the people coming through our domestic violence system under the unwelcome heading of "victim." Many of these people know exactly what is best for them and their families, and yet are revictimized by the powerlessness imposed upon them by a system of people who know better.


 

What victims groups speak for these people?

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What do we say to the people who experience all of the supposed protections of this system, only to declare that they will never again make the mistake of calling the police? Is this what we want? Do we want to deter the real victims because our system is too frightened of bad press to let an adult decide how to handle a family problem? Don't we eventually reach some point where we can mourn a domestic tragedy while still accepting that we simply can't save everyone from themselves?

In this political climate, the only safe decisions for judges and prosecutors involve high bonds, long sentences and zero contact for couples in between. In the end, those decisions are a disservice to the majority of families in this system. We've overshot the mark on protecting victims so far that we can't even see it any more. All that matters in this system is making sure no one can be criticized for failing to prevent tragedy. In the end, the criticism swallows up the tragedy.

And in the meantime, we opt to prevent healing, growth, reunions and families. We err on the side of caution because no one can be condemned for being too safe. We'll permit a woman to ride a motorcycle with no helmet, but we won't trust her to decide whether or not to have contact with her innocent-until-proven-guilty husband of umpteen years.

We have checked our common sense at the front door of the courthouse, right next to the day's copy of the Daily News. We're smarter than this, and it's time we start offering some more enlightened protections to the people who find themselves swept into our system, lest we perpetuate the very victimization we claim to be fighting against.

 

Criminal defense attorney Janeice T. Martin works for the law firm of Berry, Day & McFee, P.A. in Naples, Florida. She can be reached at jmartin@bdmlaw.com.

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| EJF Home | Find Help | Help the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter | Newsletters |

| Domestic Violence Book | DV Site Map | Data tables | DV bibliography | DV index |

 

| Chapter 2 — Domestic Violence And The Rule Of Law |

| Next — No Restraint on Restraining Orders by Stephen Baskerville, Ph.D. |

| Back — Due Process by Charles Corry, Ph.D. and Richard Davis, A.L.M. |


 

This site is supported and maintained by the Equal Justice Foundation.

Last modified 3/26/14