The law enforcement community must present a united front with state agencies against domestic violence if it is ever to be stopped. Until abusers can be brought to justice there will always be frightened victims living their lives, blaming themselves for the bruises.
When domestic violence occurs, many people suffer. The victim is in pain, obviously, but often the person who was violent feels bad about it afterwards. They say they will not do it again, but many do. Quite a few victims stay with abusive partners. Some stay because they have nowhere else to go and feel that no one else would want them. Others stay because they really believe the 'I'll never do it again' line every time it is said. When victims decide to leave, however, it's important for them to know that they have somewhere to go and that the law will be there to protect them. The Evidence Codes are very important because they tell the court what is and is not allowed to be discussed during the trial. Evidence code 1109 is especially important to domestic violence victims.
In section 1109 of the Evidence Code, the law states that "evidence of the defendant's commission of other domestic violence is not made inadmissible by Section 1101 if the evidence is not inadmissible pursuant to Section 352." In order to understand what this means, and why it is so important in domestic violence cases, a discussion of the information contained in Sections 1101 and 352 of the evidence code is needed, as well as a clarification of how these two Sections tie into Section 1109.
Sections 1100-1109 of the Evidence Code all relate to character traits in an individual. Evidence of the defendant's conduct can be used in some circumstances to show his character, but it cannot be used in all cases. Fortunately, domestic violence is one of the areas where previous convictions and instances of violence can be brought into the courtroom as evidence of a character trait toward domestic violence. This can be very important for the victims of domestic violence, as the chances of the defendant being jailed are much greater if his history shows past violence toward domestic partners as well as the current charges against him.
Section 1101 of the evidence code states that evidence of a person's character is inadmissible, unless it belongs in a category which has an exception to that rule. Section 1109 is one of those exceptions. The rest of Section 1101 goes on to explain that the evidence of the crime is admissible, as is the motive and the matter of whether a woman consented in a rape case. Evidence offered in support of or attack on a witness' credibility is not affected by Section 1101.
Based on the information given in Section 1101, it would be impossible to get prior convictions brought to light in a domestic violence case if it were not for the exception of Section 1109. Many repeat offenders would have slipped through the cracks of the justice system without this exception.
As for Section 352, this is the opposite side of the coin; the side where people bringing previous domestic violence information to light have to be careful. Section 352 states that the value of the evidence that the court decides to allow must be stronger than the chance that the same evidence will cause excessive prejudice against the defendant. The evidence also cannot be used to mislead the jury or confuse the issue at hand.
What the Evidence Code is actually saying is that when someone commits an act of domestic violence and is put on trial for it, any evidence that is brought out must not be unduly prejudiced against the defendant. Prior convictions would be acceptable, because they are fact, but information from other people who want to make the defendant look bad by speaking out against him would likely not be allowed.
The wording of the Evidence Code also shows that domestic violence is an exception to the rule. Originally, Section 1101 was designed to keep prior convictions out of the evidence presented at trial, presumably because it could prejudice the jury against the defendant and hamper his right to a fair trial. The exception of Section 1109 shows that where domestic violence is concerned, the issue is so important to society that the courts have decided to allow prior convictions in as evidence in the hopes that it might be shown whether the defendant has a character trait for violence against domestic partners.
While some might feel that this is also prejudice, others - including victims of domestic violence - would likely feel that until the jury sees someone as a 'repeat offender' and realizes the damage he has done, they will not be inclined to make sure he stays in jail. Keeping the defendant in jail is the best way to keep the victims safe. Restraining orders are only pieces of paper, after all, and the police cannot be everywhere at all times.
The Evidence Code exceptions made for domestic violence give an indication of how far this country has come in looking at this problem. It was not long ago that domestic violence was considered a 'family problem' that was to be dealt with behind closed doors and did not involve law enforcement. Now that it is seen as something much more serious, the courts have created ways to help the victims much more than in the past.
To understand why this is so important, it is necessary to look briefly at the highlights of the laws enacted to help fight domestic violence. Although the first 'battered women's shelter' was opened in 1965, there were still not many laws on the books to help the women. It is true that men are sometimes victims of domestic violence, but it is also true that women are the victims much more often. Most of these victims, when they left their abuser, would stay with friends or relatives. After the opening of the shelter, they had somewhere safe and guarded to go to.
In was not until 1985 that a mandatory 48-hour jail time for violating restraining orders was enacted. Up until that time the violator could be arrested and then back out on the streets just a couple of hours later to see what other damage they could do. A 48-hour jail sentence gives the angry person time to cool off a little bit, and it gives the victim time to move (if it is absolutely necessary), change the locks, change the phone number, or whatever they need to do to feel safe again.
In 1990 people who had restraining orders placed against them were forbidden to buy a gun. This was beginning to show that there was concern about people who were domestic violence abusers. There was obviously a feeling that they might do it again, or the gun law would not have become a concern. Many abusers who find that they have a restraining order against them become even more violent than before.
Between 1990 and 2000 the laws and regulations created to help victims of domestic violence grew rapidly. More shelters were established, more laws were put on the books, and more healthcare workers were being trained to look for signs of domestic violence in anyone they treated. So much of this was occurring that people were beginning to realize domestic violence was a much larger problem then had previously been realized, and the courts were finally doing something about it.
Now, when a defendant is charged with domestic violence, any other assaults from the past can be brought into the court room and told to the jury, allowing them to decide if this event was probably a one-time occurrence of lost temper, or whether the defendant is a dangerous person who will only continue to hurt others if left loose on the streets. Lawmakers were very smart in enacting this section of the Evidence Code. Many people have undoubtedly been helped by it, and many people have been jailed who would have otherwise been walking the streets. By jailing them, the world is much safer for the previous and potential future victims of domestic violence.
Social workers often have the chance to stop the cycle of domestic violence for individuals that have been referred to them by law enforcement. Often times, these domestic violence victims are taken to the hospital while the abuser is taken to jail. When this happens, a social worker will generally come in and talk to the individual that has been abused regarding getting help to stop it from happening again. Not all victims respond well to this, however, because many of them feel that they have to be with their abuser and that they love him, regardless of the way that they are being treated. This can come from low self-esteem and other emotional problems or it can also…