Follow-up to Topeka’s DV Mess
There’s been a lot of discussion following yesterday’s post about Topeka decriminalizing domestic battery, as well as some new information. The most important update would be the fact that the DA’s office will once again resume prosecuting domestic violence cases.
This doesn’t undo the damage already done, nor does it change the fact that both the city and the DA’s office endangered lives with their political games, but I’m relieved that the DA has made this choice.
Here are some of the other points that came up in various discussions yesterday, along with my thoughts.
Topeka didn’t decriminalize anything.
- Topeka used to have a law stating that domestic violence was a crime. They removed that law.
- It’s true that Kansas state law still lists domestic violence as a crime, but the city’s refusal to prosecute meant any such cases had to be prosecuted by the district attorney … who until yesterday evening was refusing to do so, which resulted in at least 18 suspects being turned away or freed without charges, including at least one who was promptly arrested again for committing the exact same crime.
Domestic violence cases are very hard to prosecute, and even harder to win.
- This is true. Does the fact that something is difficult now mean we shouldn’t do it?
- Sending the message that you don’t take domestic violence seriously is going to make it a hell of a lot harder for victims to trust you and work with you.
The DA stopped prosecuting misdemeanors as a response to budget cuts which crippled his office. The city was just protecting itself from a sudden influx of cases it wasn’t prepared to handle.
- This does explain the DA’s “demand” for $350,000 to begin prosecuting misdemeanors again, including domestic violence.
- Interestingly enough, there’s apparently “an item in the Shawnee County budget … that doles out $200,000 for golf course irrigation.” Good to know where our priorities are.
- So basically, victims of domestic violence became a political football being tossed back and forth between the city and the DA’s office, both of whom claimed to be unable to prosecute those cases.
- I wonder if the city of Topeka sees the DA’s decision to go back to prosecuting these cases as a victory, and vindication of their strategy?
Why the hell is domestic battery only a misdemeanor anyway?
- I’m guessing because it’s a crime that disproportionately affects women.
- From a NY Daily News story about this issue, Claudine Dombrowski’s partner “once beat her in the head with a crowbar and sent her to the hospital with two broken wrists and 24 stitches in what was labeled a ‘misdemeanor’ domestic abuse case…”
- Admittedly, it’s been 20 years since I was in Kansas, but it didn’t strike me as sucking more or less than any other state.
- Topeka isn’t the only place where politicians are playing dumbass games and losing their minds over budget issues.
I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but–
- Don’t. Just don’t. Not here, not about this.
- It’s one thing to try to look at both sides of an issue. It’s another to turn it into a game.
October 13, 2011 @ 10:05 am
Well, it’s good that they’re prosecuting them again, but this shouldn’t have even happened in the first place.
But still, Jim, kudos to you for talking about things like this and remaining sensible when others (Including myself at times, I must admit) are less so.
October 13, 2011 @ 2:46 pm
“Why the hell is domestic battery only a misdemeanor anyway?”
I have a suspicion domestic violence is a misdemeanor because it is a “form” of assault, which is usually (but not always) also classified as a misdemeanor. I do not agree with it either, but most likely that is the reason.
October 13, 2011 @ 4:44 pm
From the second this was on the table there was never going to be a win. All available answers had unacceptable side effects. Politicians all over need to remember that basic morality is not a luxury that can be abandoned when it becomes inconvenient.
October 13, 2011 @ 4:50 pm
Well said sir.
October 15, 2011 @ 12:26 pm
As a former courtroom bailiff in California, I can’t speak to Kansas law, but the laws are pretty much similar in most states.
There are two sections to the domestic violence statute; misdemeanor and felony. It has nothing to do with the victim being male or female.
The misdemeanor section covers a certain degree of relationship and severity of harm. For example, violence between a non-cohabitating boyfriend and girlfriend who don’t have a child in common would not qualify under the misdemeanor section unless the injury was significant. If they had a child in common, or cohabitating, that same violence would be covered under the section.
But it’s still a crime under the assault and battery law and can be charged as such.
Felony domestic violence covers grievous bodily harm, and any use of a weapon. I can’t imagine why, in any state in the US, Ms. Dombrowski’s injuries would fall under the misdemeanor section. The use of the crowbar alone falls under felony assault with a deadly weapon, and her injuries describe felony battery – or even attempted murder. What presiding judge would allow this to be prosecuted as a misdemeanor? It’s clearly felony conduct.
Perhaps her assailant accepted a plea bargain which reduced his conviction to a misdemeanor? The article didn’t say. That is not an uncommon outcome.
I read the linked article, which described 18 suspects released without complaint. In my experience, the vast majority of domestic violence arrests by law enforcement aren’t charged by the DA – the primary reason being the victim refuses to testify. It might be that those suspects would have been on the strike list anyway.
No matter what their budget looks like, I just can’t comprehend any DA taking the risk of releasing a guy with an active DVRO violation. That’s just an invitation to civil liability.
What I’m saying, is that I read this article and it struck me as… missing information.
I think it’s politics, and I agree it’s reprehensible. To make his same point, perhaps the DA could have refused to prosecute auto burglaries until they resolved their budget dispute. That happened here in the SF Bay Area.
I just don’t believe the DA in any state would refuse to prosecute an assault if the victim was willing to testify. Especially domestic violence, where the liability is so very high.
Perhaps I’m accustomed to the strict DV laws we have in California. But from what I know of the criminal complaint process (and yes, sometimes it works and sometimes it breaks down) there is more to this matter than the article mentioned.
I think this is a budget battle between municipal and superior court over who would take these dockets, and someone took a very, very, unfortunate public posture. I don’t believe that any victim would be refused a complaint if he or she had probable cause and was willing to testify. IMHO, this was a fight over where to prosecute, not whether to prosecute.