Judge sends abuse victim to jail for not appearing in court
SANFORD, Fla. (AP) – A Florida judge ignored the pleas and tears of a domestic abuse victim and sent the woman to jail for three days for ignoring a subpoena and failing to show up at her abuser’s trial.
Prosecutors wanted the Lake Mary, Florida, woman to testify against the father of her child at a July hearing. He was charged with domestic battery and aggravated assault, and police say he choked her and threatened her with a knife.
But the woman didn’t show up, so she was ordered to stand before Seminole County Circuit Judge Jerri Collins in a contempt hearing and answer why she had ignored the subpoena.
“I’m very sorry … I’ve been dealing with depression and just a lot, a lot personally since this happened,” the woman said haltingly between sniffs in video made public this week of the July 30 contempt hearing. “We were trying to separate.”
“Why didn’t you show up to court?” the judge then asked her directly.
“I’m just, my anxiety, and I’m just …” the woman said.
The judge interrupted: “You think you’re going to have anxiety now? You haven’t even seen anxiety.”
Collins chastised the woman, telling her that a jury of six people had been picked and that the defendant had a history of domestic violence.
“You were required to be here by a court order,” the judge said. “You disobeyed a court order, knowing that this was not going to turn out well for the state.”
She asked whether the allegations, from the April 2 incident, were true. The woman said they were.
She told the judge she was relying on the defendant’s child support to get an apartment and find a job. After he was arrested in April, she said, he lost his job and she lost child support. She said she lives with her parents and had to sell all her possessions.
Collins sentenced the woman to three days in jail for contempt as she cried and begged: “Judge, I’ll do anything – please, please. I have a 1-year-old son, and I’m trying to take care of him myself.”
But Collins told her, “You should have showed up.”
The judge had other sentencing options, such as community service at a domestic abuse shelter, said Jeanne Gold, an Orlando-area advocate for victims of domestic abuse.
“The judge needs to be re-educated on the dynamics of domestic abuse and how to speak to victims,” said Gold, a former prosecutor who runs SafeHouse, a shelter and center for domestic abuse victims.
The man charged in the abuse case – the father of the woman’s son – negotiated a lesser charge and was sentenced to 16 days in jail.
A motion filed by State Attorney Phil Archer shows the woman notified his office that she didn’t want to go forward with the charges about a week before trial. A prosecutor and a victim’s advocate warned the woman over the next several days that she was required to show up for court. According to the motion, the woman responded the day before the trial, “I am not going in tomorrow. I don’t care if I get arrested!”
Court spokeswoman Michelle Kennedy said the judge would not comment on the case. She cited Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits judges from commenting about pending cases, but the woman’s deadline to appeal has passed.