Trial Losses in Abuse Cases Bring Questions

By Mandel, Eric | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), October 10, 2012 | Go to article overview

Trial Losses in Abuse Cases Bring Questions


Mandel, Eric, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


domestic violence defined A domestic relationship involves two individuals who: - Are married, divorced or separated. - Have lived together at some point in the past year. - Have a child in common, whether or not they have been married, divorced or living together at some point in the past year. - Are in an intimate relationship or have been within the past year. Assault: - Physical contact that is insulting or can cause an injury. - The threat of physical contact and the apparent ability to carry the threat out. - Using a weapon in a threatening manner. law change for domestic abuse with strangulation The state of Iowa recently increased penalties for domestic violence cases involving strangulation. If domestic abuse is committed by knowingly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of another by applying pressure to the throat or neck of the other person or by obstructing the nose or mouth of the other person, the charge is an aggravated misdemeanor. If the offense causes bodily injury, it is considered a class D felony. In Iowa since 1995, 20 of the 135 women (or 15 percent) killed in domestic abuse murders were strangled to death. Often, strangulation victims have no visible injuries and only temporary symptoms. However, brain damage from lack of oxygen can cause victims to suffer a stroke, miscarry a pregnancy or die, up to several weeks later. Under previous Iowa law, a person who strangles a domestic-abuse victim might only receive a simple misdemeanor conviction if the assault was a first offense and there was no bodily injury. Even with bodily injury, the person might only receive an aggravated misdemeanor. Since the change took effect in July, Dubuque police have received 18 reports of various degrees of domestic strangulation.

The prosecution has lost 12 of the 15 domestic abuse cases that went to trial in Dubuque County over the past year.

It's a telling statistic about the difficulty involved with proving such cases, but it also brings up some questions. Most importantly: What is the best way to handle domestic violence situations in Dubuque County?

The state prosecutes cases to help protect the victims and, ideally, incarcerate and rehabilitate the abusers. But some defense attorneys question whether the state is focusing too much on minor squabbles that shouldn't be punished criminally, and they are not being selective enough on cases being tried before a jury.

Although none of the defense attorneys were willing to go on the record with the TH, mainly citing concern over prosecution of future clients and possible ethics violations, the issues have been brought forward to Dubuque County Attorney Ralph Potter with more frequency over the last month.

Potter said he is mulling the complaints and reviewing their validity alongside the recent string of trial losses.

"Each case has to be looked at individually," Potter said. "It is always a judgment call."

Domestic abuse is one of, if not the most, difficult charges to prosecute. There are several variables to consider, including the difficulty in proving an altercation that rarely includes independent witnesses. There are also psychological aspects, especially when the victim believes him- or herself to be at fault, often through conditioning from the abuser.

"We hear a lot of, 'Well it really was all my fault. I did tell him to shut up, therefore I deserved to be strangled and hit with a belt,'" said Assistant County Attorney Alisha Stach, the county's primary domestic violence attorney.

A majority of defendants plead guilty or accept plea bargains. A guilty plea or conviction for a first offender results in a minimum two-day jail sentence and participation in the batterer's education program.

cases to trial

Stach averages more than one domestic abuse trial per month, and she says she has about a dozen pending cases that involve males facing their fourth or fifth offense.

Her philosophy is, generally, to take every case to trial unless the defendant accepts a plea deal. …

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