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franklin county times

Assaults, victims and charges

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
August 8, 2004
When I began thinking about this column, and the incident that provoked it, I was frustrated. Now, I'm merely ambivalent.
A little background: It's not unusual, when someone is knifed or shot, to learn from the Meridian Police Department that nobody has been charged in the assault because the victim hasn't decided whether or not to press charges.
Now add this: On Thursday, a lady was shot in the chest on 25th Avenue. The bullet missed her heart and she's in the hospital. The shooting happened about 6 p.m. An hour later, the alleged shooter surrendered to police. The weird thing was that the answer about charges was still the same not unless she files a complaint.
It felt all wrong.
As it turned out, the picture changed on Friday, when police investigators learned that the man who allegedly shot the lady was her husband and the state's domestic violence law came into play. Enacted in the late 1990s, it requires law enforcement officers to make an arrest if they have probable cause to believe that a person has been injured by a spouse.
The suspect in the shooting has now been charged with aggravated assault/domestic violence.
What's the problem?
The Legislature had all the best of intentions when it drafted a new domestic violence law and it's a good law as far as it goes.
It was lobbied for heavily by people who work with battered women and their children. The problem it addressed was that abused women were often sweet-talked or threatened into not pressing charges by the very people who attacked them.
The intent of the law was to shield victims from the retaliation of angry and abusive spouses by taking them out of the loop. Suddenly, it was cops pressing the charges and they are notoriously resistant to sweet-talk and threats.
But, it created another problem.
What we have out there now are two classes of victims. And, one of them has more protection from the state than the other. Victims who are unrelated to their attackers have to file their own charges, and take their chances with retaliation.
Because, you know, there is such a thing as bail.
Police perspective
Can the police or sheriff's department make the arrest in situations where the victim is unrelated to his or her attacker and refuses to press charges?
But, says Meridian Police Chief Benny DuBose, you better be sure of your case. Did you see it happen? Are there witnesses? Will they come forward? Do their stories agree? And, as a practical matter, how strong is that case going to be when it is presented to a jury at trial?
From the system's perspective, it comes down to this: In a circuit court bogged down with more than a thousand indictments a year, how much time can you afford to spend on a case if your star witness has to be subpoenaed against his or her will to appear in court?
Still, it feels strange.
At the courthouse
District Attorney Bilbo Mitchell was out of the office in the latter part of the week. Mitchell is president of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association, which held a convention Thursday and Friday in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, a grand jury completed its deliberations. The panel heard from 75 witnesses, handed down 491 indictments and declined to indict in 39 cases. These numbers are a little higher than usual.
The Meridian Star will publish a list of the indictments broken down by the type of crime alleged after "arraignment day" later this month.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail smonk@themeridianstar.com.

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