The Effingham State Court is establishing a day for a domestic violence docket.
State Court Solicitor Mark Lee said the idea came about from a discussion with Brandy McMann of Effingham County Victim Witness in order to allow victims to feel more at ease by having the docket only include domestic violence issues.
Lee said when looking at cases, he looks for signs of battered spouse syndrome in order to determine the appropriate course of action.
“I try to separate those offenses that would follow the classic battered spouse syndrome, and might as well substitute woman because 95 percent of the cases it is the woman who receives the battering,” he said. “There’s a pattern to that. Quite clearly it is an issue of a controlling personality who wants to control the victim of these crimes, and so the battering is really sort of the end result of a cumulative behavior.”
Lee said when he sees cases in which no one has been seriously injured. If someone is badly hurt, the case would be a felony.
“What we try to do at the misdemeanor level is recognize that pattern, and those cases we try to assiduously prosecute,” he said. “Now it’s going to be difficult because the victim usually wants to back out of the case. That’s why I try to work with our law enforcement representatives about gathering evidence at the scene that we can use if we don’t have a victim to testify, because quite often she would be reluctant to do so.”
Lee said there are also cases of immaturity or various factors causing stress that do not follow the traditional pattern for domestic violence. Part of his job is to separate those cases.
“We do have pre-trial intervention for those cases,” Lee said, “so they can go and get whatever counseling they need, and the case will be placed on dead docket for a while, and then dismissed.”
Lee said with the set domestic violence court day, he hopes that more victims involved in the serious pattern of abuse will be willing to come to court.
“Maybe they’ll come out a little bit more if we can put a concerted effort into having a day set aside for them, so they can see that they are going to get some special attention,” he said.
The first court day will be this month, and Lee intends to have one or two days dedicated to domestic violence a month depending on the need.
He said many people may be reluctant to follow through in court because they don’t understand the court process. He said it is the first appearance day, but victims don’t know if the case is going to be tried in front of the large group of people in the courtroom.
“That’s usually just a first hearing day,” Lee said. “That’s just simply a day to enter a plea, meet with a public defender if necessary, it’s a day for an arraignment, but most victims don’t know that.
“I can imagine it would be embarrassing, for a victim to come to court and the courtroom’s packed,” Lee said. “They would rather suffer their pains in silence than air it out to such public scrutiny.”
McMann said she sees cases where embarrassment does hold victims back from continuing in the legal process.
“You can always tell by their language that that is part of the problem especially here in a county as small as this one people know each other,” she said. “That’s a reason they don’t report. They’ll come and see me without ever having made a police report.
“One of the things I do is I encourage them to report, and possibly follow through with that criminal process if that’s what they want to do,” McMann said. “It’s not uncommon for embarrassment to be a very motivating factor to not follow through.”
Lee said McMann has a different perspective on situations than he would have.
“I would suspect that they are more willing to tell (McMann) stuff that once they get over here to see me they’re backing off a little bit,” Lee said. “They might realize it’s a bit closer to the courthouse steps. We could think of a couple people that were ready to go prosecute the case, and they completely backed off. There have been some clear examples of this battered spouse syndrome that have done that.”
McMann said some victims are also more willing to speak with her because it is confidential. Lee said even though he is a lawyer, when victims speak to him it is not confidential.
“I represent the people of the state of Georgia,” Lee said. “I’m part of the law enforcement process.”
McMann said there is a need to eliminate some of the mistrust victims have with law enforcement.
“A separate family violence court might help them at least to some degree down the road realize that they don’t have to have that distrust,” McMann said.
McMann said another reason for the specified day is for accountability.
“The community realizes it is a serious issue, and it is being addressed,” McMann said.