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Florida Judge Punishes Domestic Violence Victim

Earlier this month, in what is being criticized as a potentially unethical decision, a Seminole County judge (Collins) decided to sentence a domestic violence victim to three days in jail for failing to attend the trial against the father of her son, in spite of subpoena requiring her presence. Collins, once a former prosecutor before taking the bench in 2014, scolded the victim for failing to assist the state in the case and ordered that she be placed in handcuffs. Many were absolutely appalled at the judge’s treatment of the victim, who was clearly too scared to testify. According to the arrest report, the victim was choked and threatened with a knife by the perpetrator.

The incident has some Florida citizens questioning whether our courts have come to rely too heavily on the victims of domestic violence to solve cases against domestic violence perpetrators. Even prosecutors from the State Attorney’s Office remarked that it is rare for victims of domestic violence to be jailed for contempt of court. Some would call the judge’s actions “re-victimizing” her and failing to comprehend the complicated power dynamics inherent in many domestic violence cases.

State Law

Although Florida state law does allow for a witness summoned by subpoena to be held in criminal contempt of court if they do not show up, there is a judicial code of conduct that requires judges to be patient and courteous when it comes to these types of issues, and most have the prosecutor dismiss the charges. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure also state that only without an “adequate excuse” can failure to obey a subpoena result in being held in contempt of court, allowing judges to have some flexibility with this issue. There are indications that the victim in this case contacted the State Attorney’s Office ahead of time and informed them that she could not make the appearance, although no evidence has emerged that the Assistant State Attorney released her from her subpoena appearance.

For Help with Domestic Violence Issues

The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence is the main state organization coordinating the various domestic violence centers which provide counseling, referrals, emergency shelters, case management assistance, a 24-hour hotline, community education, safety planning, and more services for victims of domestic violence. In Fort Lauderdale, Women in Distress of Broward County is the local shelter. Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, as well as YWCA of Palm Beach County, serve Boca Raton.

Contact an Effective and Compassionate Family Law Attorney

If you live in Fort Lauderdale or Boca Raton, and you have a family law concern, please contact Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. to schedule a consultation. We will work with you to find solutions that fit you and your family, and are committed to ensuring your safety and the safety of your loved ones.

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