Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Supremes Severely Limit Domestic Abuse Reports as Testimony

It was reported in the Los Angeles Times that the United States Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision that crime scene reports detailing a battered spouse's claims of being beaten by her partner cannot be used as evidence against the abuser unless the victim testifies in court.

In another decision the Court said, however, that 911 calls may be used as evidence in such a case. In prior decisions, Mr. Justice Scalia was not on the side of the angels, holding that an intervioew given at the police station could not be used as evidence in a domestic assault prosecution.

The clear import of the decisions thus far is that victims are witnesses and must testify in most circumstances.

Of course, this shows that Justice Scalia and his colleagues never drove a squad car to a domestic assault or put together a prosecution only to see the victim hounded into silence by the abuser.

The clear imports of this decision are several. First, victims must feel safe in order to have the courage to testify, and that means marshalling community resources in support of victims of domestic violence. In addition, since the "fill out the form" path to using excited utterances without the victim seems to be foreclosed, the alternative "open mike" tactic should prove useful.

I'm indebted to Officer Jeff Dawson of the Des Moines P.D. for this one when he was a Winterset officer. He always used the car with the video equipment to go to domestic calls. The car was parked and the video equipment was left running, producing through the microphone a recording of the call. In addition, use of cameras should be the rule in every case.



Post a Comment

<< Home