In 1995, when I was asked to be a part of a delegation from Minnesota to the national Violence Against Women Conference, there was some discussion of whether it was appropriate for judges to participate in a conference or organization that was focused on the victims of domestic abuse. After all, we are called upon to preside and decide cases of domestic abuse, both criminal and civil. Wouldn’t we be perceived as favoring one side over the other if we attended/supported education efforts to reduce domestic violence?
The Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court issued an Order that it was not only permissible to participate in such groups, but it was encouraged.
After all, there is no judge anywhere that is in favor of crime. Yet, each one of use must make decisions about persons charged with crimes dozens of times each week.
A person, and a judge, can be against crime or domestic abuse in general, but must be able to look at each individual situation to determine whether the charge has been proved or whether the criteria for issuing a domestic abuse order for protection have been demonstrated. If so, a guilty verdict is rendered or an order for protection is issued. If not, the charges or the petition must be dismissed.
I have dismissed petitions for orders for protection where the petitioner is obviously and with good reason, terrified of the alleged abuser because one of the requirements of the statute has not been proved. As much as I feel for the alleged victim, and as much as I wish I could grant the order she (usually, but not always a she) has requested, I simply cannot under the law I have sworn to uphold.
I continue to participate in our county’s bi-monthly meetings on addressing the serious and pressing issues of domestic violence. We have worked together to streamline and standardize the procedures in handling these cases, from investigation through trial and after.
I know the actions of this group of law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation and social workers has made our county safer for victims of domestic abuse. I also know we have much more work to do.
And I guarantee that the State or the Petitioner in such actions must prove their case before I will issue a guilty verdict or order for protection.
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Next Week: Be Careful What You Ask For