Crisis In The Family Courts

Richard Meehan: System fails to protect victims of domestic violence

Posted in domestic law by abatteredmother on March 21, 2010

http://www.norwichbulletin.com/opinions/columnists/x427979528/Richard-Meehan-System-fails-to-protect-victims-of-domestic-violence

By RICHARD MEEHAN Jr.

For The Norwich Bulletin

Posted Mar 20, 2010 @ 10:12 PM

The recent killings of a court clerk in Bridgeport and a murder- suicide in West Haven have brought a stark focus to the dilemma of protecting victims of relationships gone bad. One of the more controversial proposals under consideration is to require defendants to submit to GPS monitoring.

There’s no argument that domestic violence is epidemic. Efforts at protecting potential victims as well as controlling abusers have increased in recent years.

Typically, someone accused of a domestic violence crime, whether there is serious injury or merely the threat of it, is required to appear at the next session of the court. A representative of the Family Relations office interviews the accused and the purported victim, providing input to the prosecutor and judge. A criminal protective order is issued.

Depending upon the seriousness of the acts alleged and the attitude of the complainant, it may be either a full protective order — requiring the defendant to remain at least 100 yards from the victim and have no contact — or a partial protective order — allowing contact but prohibiting any threats or violent conduct.

Protective orders give police the instant authority to act. In addition, violating a criminal protective order is, in itself, a serious crime.

While a protective order may work in many cases, a piece of paper can’t stop a knife or a bullet or one bent on violence. Advocates have called for stronger measures. GPS monitoring would alert police if a defendant violates the 100 yard restriction, allowing them the instant opportunity to take the offender back into custody. 

The issue is whether the intrusion into the privacy of someone cloaked with the presumption of innocence is constitutionally warranted.

Opponents of GPS argue that tracking someone merely accused of a crime intrudes on First Amendment freedoms. Proponents claim this intrusion is minimal when contrasted with the injuries or loss of life from violent acts.

In emotionally charged cases, the concept of innocent until proven guilty is significantly blurred. Domestic violence and sexual crimes highlight this. Who has the greater rights: The victim or the accused?

Electronic monitoring of pre-trial defendants is not a new concept. Many defense counsel have argued for lower bail for clients willing to wear an electronic monitoring device to ensure home confinement while awaiting trial. Some jurisdictions, in particular the federal criminal courts, employ electronic monitoring to ensure home confinement as part of a split sentence imposed following a conviction. In those instances the defendant welcomes the opportunity to be released from custody at the cost of this intrusion on personal privacy.

Whatever side of the debate one is on, there is one thing that is clear — the present system does not work all the time. Whether an ankle bracelet is more effective than a piece of paper in stopping a bullet remains to be seen.

Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. examines the inner workings of the court system. He can be contacted through his Web page at http://www.meehanlaw.com

Copyright 2010 Norwich Bulletin. Some rights reserved

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