Reluctantly she comes to court and waits patiently for her turn to talk to the prosecutor. This is her first contact with the prosecutor, and, many times this is a couple of weeks after her boyfriend beat her up. Usually, she has already reached out to her boyfriend’s attorney, explaining that she wants the charges dropped. She is a “victim” of domestic violence.
When she approaches the prosecutor, she quietly explains that she wishes to drop the charges. The prosecutor grabs the warrant from the pile of warrants on the table, opens it up and reads the allegations. The “victim” keeps talking, explaining that things have calmed down and, again, repeats that she wants the charges dropped. Frustrated, the prosecutor, still focused on the allegations, asks, “Did you tell the magistrate that he punched you in the face and pushed you down?”
“Well, yes.” She says, “but, it wasn’t like that. And, I don’t want to go forward anymore. I just want the charges dropped. I don’t want him to get in trouble. It was all a big misunderstanding.”
“Did he punch you and push you down?” the prosecutor asks.
“Well, yes, but, I want the charges dropped.”
“Ma’am you don’t get to decide if the charges are going to be dropped. That is my job. And, if he punched you and pushed you down, he is guilty of Assault on a Female. Please have a seat until we call you back up here.”
In just that instant, she has gone from the “victim” that the prosecutor is charged with protecting, to the “villain” that the prosecutor is going to force to testify against her boyfriend/abuser if he refuses to plead guilty.
As she returns to the audience, she is angry and panicked. She doesn’t understand how she can be forced to testify when she has told the prosecutor she doesn’t want to proceed. And, if she is forced to testify, she wonders, how angry that will make him? If he doesn’t go to jail, what will life at home be like for her that night, when they return from court? If he does go to jail, how angry will he be when she picks him up, after he is released from jail? Why is she now being treated like a “villain”? She sits there wishing she had never called the police.
Lunch time comes and the prosecutor still has not called her case. She approaches again, hoping to convince the prosecutor to dismiss the charges. The prosecutor, still frustrated, and ready to go to lunch, snaps at her before she can get a word out, and orders her to be back at 2:00pm. Shocked by the prosecutor’s attitude, she turns and walks out. Deciding that they cannot force her to come back, she leaves and doesn’t return.
After lunch, the prosecutor who is busy handling all of the other cases on the docket doesn’t realize she didn’t come back. The prosecutor calls the case for trial and looks into the audience, waiting for her to come up. The audience is quiet, and, the only people the prosecutor sees coming forward are the defense attorney and his client, her boyfriend. After calling her name out again, the prosecutor realizes she is gone. Frustrated, the prosecutor throws the warrant on the table and explains to the Judge that the “victim” was there earlier and she was told to be back at 2:00pm.
Not knowing what to do, the prosecutor verifies that she was served with a subpoena. In some instances the Judge allows the prosecutor to continue the case in order to try, once again, to make sure the “victim/villain” is in court. In other instances, the Judge will not allow the case to be continued so the prosecutor is forced to dismiss the case. If forced to dismiss the case, the prosecutor asks that the “victim/villain” be ordered to appear in court and explain her reasons for not being in court. The “victim/villain’s” explanation, if not pleasing to the court, could land her in jail.
Through the years I have always wondered how the system could possibly think it is working when cases are being handled like this. Quite frankly, this attitude has worked to my advantage as a defense attorney. Maybe we should consider some sort of approach that involves more than just a conviction.
Readers, what are your thoughts and suggestions? I would love to hear from you all.