Cathy Young's article on domestic violence laws ("Domestic Violations," February) did a good job of revealing the commonplace denials of constitutional rights that the accused face in "domestic" assault cases. There is, however, one frequent problem which Ms. Young has missed.
In my criminal defense practice, I have found that judges frequently order defendants to attend counseling as a condition of pre-trial release. Another condition is to sign releases so that pre-trial release supervisors can monitor compliance.
The problem is, counselors all say that to provide counseling to a "batterer," the batterer has to admit that he has committed the acts of which he is accused. In other words, in order to be released pending trial, an accused batterer has to confess to the crime. Last time I checked, this was a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Ms. Young commented, "The assumption behind no-drop [prosecution] policies is that when women recant or refuse to press charges, it is out of fear or dependence." I have seen evidence of this assumption, and one prosecutor even admitted it to me. When I told the prosecutor that the "victim" was going to testify that my client had never touched her, the prosecutor told me that any woman who comes in the day of trial and claims that she was not assaulted is lying. Apparently, alleged victims always tell the truth when they claim to be assaulted but always lie when they deny the assault took place.
My only quibble with Cathy Young's article is that her brief reference does not describe the huge injustice done by the (1996) "Lautenberg Amendment" to the Gun Control Act of 1968. Not only does this law permanently revoke an enumerated civil right for a misdemeanor conviction, it's retroactive!
If you were convicted (or copped a plea and paid a small fine or took a class, in addition to the time you had already spent in jail, to avoid a ruinously expensive trial) many years before this law was passed, you now can never again buy a gun. You must immediately get rid of any you had legally owned.
No target rifle, no duck-hunting gun, no gun to keep in your home or place of business--no matter how weak or strong the original case was, how long ago, how clean your record ever since, or how pressing your need. If you're a law enforcement officer, you're now out of a job, or at best on permanent administrative duty.
In what other case can the punishment for a crime be increased years after the verdict is rendered and the sentence imposed--by a law that didn't exist when the offense occurred?
Of course domestic violence really happens, and when it does it's horrible. We shouldn't go back to the bad old days where it was often ignored until somebody was killed. What to do, then?
When the facts indicate, treat domestic assaults like the felonies they are. Let the full weight of the law, and all the constitutional protections for the accused, come into play. In minor or unclear cases, intervene as necessary. But we should not trash constitutional rights with ill-considered, feel-good remedies.
Cedar Creek, TX
Thank you very much. As a loyal subscriber to REASON and a men's rights activist, I found Young's analysis painfully right on target. Young brought the personal and political together in an accurate tale of woe.
The popular media cannot run any longer from the facts that Young reveals with both compassion and common sense: The "arrest the biggest party on domestic calls" mandate is biased; the rise in restraining orders reflects an increase not in abuse but in the use of such orders by possessive mothers to ditch the child's father for good; and feminism based on gender rather than equity has harmful effects we all feel.