Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why Supreme Court Justices Matter

On Wednesday, June 25th in a 6-3 vote the Supreme Court ruled to overturn the murder conviction of Dwayne Giles . In the original trial, a police officer read the statements of Brenda Avie from a police report that was filed a few weeks before the murder in which Avie states that Giles had threatened to kill her. This action allegedly violated Giles' rights when he was not allowed to "confront" his accuser. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the reason for her absence is no longer a mitigating factor. David Savage of the Los Angeles Times predicted the ruling.
Although it sounds far-fetched, Giles's claim could prevail in the Supreme Court. The court took up of the case of Giles v. California to test the outer limits to the so-called confrontation right in the Sixth Amendment. It says, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him."

Until 2004, judges usually allowed jurors to hear "reliable" second-hand accounts of what witnesses said if the witness was not available. For example, a police officer could report on what a missing witness had said. But in a case that year, Justice Antonin Scalia insisted this "hearsay" violated the defendant's rights under the Sixth Amendment. "Where testimonial statements are at issue, the only [test] of reliability ... is the one the Constitution actually prescribes: confrontation," Justice Scalia said at the time in Crawford v. Washington.

During yesterday's argument, Justice Scalia said the court should stick to a no-exceptions rule. He said Giles's rights were violated because a police officer had testified at his trial that the murder victim, Brenda Avie, had said Giles threatened to kill her.

And indeed, it is Justice Scalia who's majority opinion is being quoted.

Justice Antonin Scalia said in his majority opinion that domestic violence, though "an intolerable offense," does not justify "abridging the rights of criminal defendants."

The police report in question details an incident in which police were called to a domestic disturbance and found Brenda Avie and Dwayne Giles engaged in an argument. Brenda Avie appeared to have a "bump on her head" and told police that Giles had flashed a knife and threatened to kill her. Giles has confessed to shooting Avie and fleeing the scene but claims it was in self-defense. Justice Stephen Breyer echos in his dissent what this blogger feels about the ruling.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the court should have ruled that defendants forfeit their constitutional right to confront witnesses when they are responsible for the witness' absence from trial. Wednesday's ruling, Breyer said, "grants the defendant not fair treatment, but a windfall."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Infrequent Posting

I just wanted to apologize for the lack of posting and let everyone know that my contract with Women's Resource Center will end July 25th. Because of that I'm in wrap-up mode with all of the projects I started and so life will be kind of hectic from now until the end of my term. Unfortunately, that means that posts here will be infrequent until I'm done at WRC. I'm hoping to continue to post weekly for the next month.

However, once my contract is up posting should resume as a daily event. We appreciate your patience.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Giving yourself a break

Katherine Stone at Postpartum Progress has written a very personal and important post for any parent or guardian, not just those who have suffered from PPD. You should head over and read the whole thing, but I believe her conclusion sums it up quite nicely.
The truth is every mom does something (what's the present tense of wrought? wringing?) that could surely be used against her by her children someday in a therapy session. My son may be at a disadvantage in some way because of my illness. I'll never really know I guess. But I do know that I did my best. I do know that I sought help as soon as possible. I do know that I faked it til I made it. I do know that he's a great reader, a good swimmer, a nice big brother, a cool Lego builder, very witty and absolutely gorgeous. He knows I love him and I know he loves me, and that we're both pretty good people. That's all I've got and I need to keep hold of it. Let the chips fall where they may.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

In Response to Dangers of Domestic Violence Calls

Recently on Police Link, which bills itself as the Nation's Law Enforcement Community, a post entitled Dangers of Domestic Violence Calls detailed some of the hazards police officers face when responding to domestic violence calls and offered tips for those officers to minimize the risks to their personal safety. The idea of this post is quite useful. Part of domestic violence response training for police officers should include training on how to preserve their own lives. Police officers are in danger everytime they respond to any type of call and each department should equip their officers with all of the knowledge necessary to avoid being hurt or killed in the line of duty.

Unfortunately, the author of this particular piece seems to have a special contempt for domestic violence calls. Even from the first line, it's clear that they find dv calls to be more troubling than any other disturbance.
Don't discount DV calls as routine. It just takes one to get you killed.

This line seems to assume that, for example, a traffic stop can't get you killed. Many "routine" duties of a police officer can very well get you killed. That's why it is such a difficult and noble profession.

The author then proceeds to recount the (unsourced) story he/she has read about a police officer being shot by an abuser after they had responded to a domestic violence call, which leads the author to expand upon their experienced based tips on handling "domestics". With each tip category's introduction, it is clear that the author needs more training on the nature of domestic violence, and feels that the victims bring their troubles on themselves.

Exercise Caution
Consider this: There's a reason that you're called to a location. The transition from domestic bliss to domestic violence can take place in the blink of a wandering eye and the person requesting your presence often has some legitimate expectation of getting his or her ass beat. And the person who may inflict such harm might not care who's on the receiving end.(Emphasis Added)

This entire paragraph demonstrates the mindset that domestic violence is the result of one incident (that is the fault of the victim) that pushes an otherwise rational human being "over the edge". Let us be clear, this is patently false. Domestic violence is systematic terroristic behavior. A person who manages to survive in a violent relationship is well-studied in the behaviors that do not upset their significant other. The problem with this type of safety plan is that the violence is not truly related to emotional responses. It isn't the result of stress, or alcohol, or infidelity. It is a thought out way to exact control over another human being and the violence will continue in some way or another no matter what the victim does. These rages are not uncontrolled episodes where the abuser "might not care who's on the receiving end." The abuser very much cares. And while the violence may spill over to a police officer, or someone else who is trying to offer help, those people are simply collateral damage to an abuser demonstrating that there is no one who can protect their victim.
Maintain Peace and Safety
If the person is on site and you're able to contact them, first determine if there's been a crime involved. Whether or not one has been committed, tell the person you're assisting to keep their mouth shut so they don't provoke the aggressor into going Jerry Springer on their ass, or more importantly, yours.

Conduct a cursory pat-down search of BOTH parties. Considering the nature of circumstances, the omnipresent threat of danger associated with such calls, the understandably agitated frame of mind of the distraught boyfriend/husband/significant other, and the possibility that one/the other/both may have a weapon to launch or prevent an attack, it shouldn't be too hard for you to justify your need for doing so.(Emphasis Added)

Here again there is the repeated theme that domestic violence is an emotional response to some sort of provocation. In addition, the emphasis is on putting responsibility on the victim to not "provoke the aggressor" rather than taking steps to effectively neutralize the abuser, i.e. the one who has actually committed a crime. The author even enters the apologist frame of mind at this point in the post, stating that the "boyfriend/husband/significant other" will have an understandably agitated frame of mind.
Personal Experience
I hate domestics, and was wounded while responding to one when an idiot ambushed another deputy and myself with an AK47. Perhaps predictably, the girlfriend we saved—the one who, along with her family, was the object of the suspect's murderous rage in the first place—pissed backward when it came time to go to court and testified on his behalf (he was still sentenced to 160 years).

Personally, I believe that the first time any person becomes a victim of domestic violence, law enforcement officers should do everything in their power to insulate them from any further attack. But the moment they go back to the abusive son of a bitch, then we should be able to wash our hands of them. Professionally we don't have that discretion: We are expected to continually run interference on behalf of these Darwin Award aspirants.

Ignoring the general tone of obvious contempt and disrespect that litters the "Personal Experience" section of this post, we can still see the continuing theme of a complete misunderstanding of the nature of domestic violence. Once again, we have to reiterate that domestic violence is systematic terroristic behavior used to control another person. If, as the author states, this abuser was not only trying to kill the victim but had also threatened to kill her family it is no way strange that she would be scared to testify and may in fact have logically felt that the only way to protect her family was to testify for the defense. It is unfortunately likely that she had had previous experience with unhelpful law enforcement and had no reason to believe that her abuser would not be right back out on the street. If the attitude of the author of this piece is consistent with his/her department, then it shouldn't shock them that she would feel that the criminal justice system would ultimately be of no help to her. The author's ludicrous Darwin Award insinuation that repeat victims of domestic violence are stupid implies that the main reason the victims return to their abusers is out of a genuine belief that things will change. In fact, the number one reason that victims return to their abusers is an economic inability to go anywhere else. Economic reasons are followed closely by the desire to protect their family and themselves. It is well documented that a woman is in the greatest danger of being killed after she leaves or attempts to leave the relationship.

Perhaps if the author really doesn't want to continue to be called out to the same locations time and time again, he/she ought to lobby for better victim's resources, more law enforcement training, or more effective domestic violence legislation rather than jumping on the victim-blaming apologist's bandwagon.