International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Fall 2014 Issue


Domestic Violence: A World Wide Plague That the Judiciary Can and Must Address

Dr. James G. Apple

By: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor and President, International Judicial Academy

In the United States, with many citizens addicted to watching sporting events, there is a very popular sporting magazine with a very large number of subscribers. The name of the magazine is Sports Illustrated, and it is published by the same company that publishes Time magazine, Fortune magazine and, before it closed down, Life magazine. A recent issue of Sports Illustrated focused on domestic violence in sports; in particular one case involving a prominent professional football player whose actions against his fiancé in a casino elevator were revealed by a video camera. The football player struck his fiancé with his fist so hard that she was knocked unconscious. He then dragged her inert body out of the elevator by her feet. Public outrage was intense and directed not only against the player, but also against the commissioner of the professional football league and the team for which the player played. The “punishment” handed out to the player initially was only a two game suspension. This punishment was later changed, because of the release of the videotape in its entirety, which revealed the complete episode, and the resulting public outcry, to a discharge of the offender from the team, and an indefinite suspension of the player by the football league commissioner.

A later story in Time magazine reviewed the case for the general public. In that article the author, at the end of it, pointed out that football in the United States had become more than just a game. “If football was ever just a game,” he wrote, it’s not any more. Football is both a model and a reflection of America writ large.”

The United States as a nation has a severe domestic violence problem, but fortunately is doing something about it. In an article in the same edition of Time magazine, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden observed that in 1994 then U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act, resulting in a 64% drop in domestic violence rates. Some individual states have also enacted reforms that target violence against women. Vice-President Biden ended his commentary with this condemnation: “The American people have sent a message: ‘You’re a coward for raising a hand to a woman or child – and you’re complicit if you fail to condemn it.”

The reader may wonder what all of this has to do with judges and courts. First it should be noted that judges themselves are not immune from this kind of violence. Domestic violence can infect the judiciary, as shown by the recent case of Judge Mark Fuller, a United States District Judge in the U.S. state of Alabama. Fuller assaulted his wife in an Atlanta, Georgia hotel in August of this year. He was arrested and spent one night in jail. Later he worked out an arrangement with the prosecutor and court whereby he had to agree, in a “pre-trial diversion,” to seeking evaluations for his personal conduct and enrollment in a court-approved domestic violence program that included counseling, probably with an “anger control” component. Completion of this requirement will result in Judge Fuller receiving a complete clearing of all charges against him and an extinguishing of all court records relating to the arrest and the circumstances of it.

The “eerie similarity” has been noted between this case involving a federal judge and the case of the professional football player referred to above, with different outcomes. Some persons familiar with Judge Fuller’s case have argued that he should resign from the bench.

Judges are involved in the domestic violence issue not only because some judges may have personal experience with it, but also because they are in a unique position to do something about it, through cases that come before them in court, and because of their position and status in the community. As one

commentary has pointed out, judges actions can “send a message” to the legal system and those who are involved in it that domestic violence cannot be tolerated in any kind of civilized society and ending it should be a community priority.

In one state of the United States, Minnesota, a human rights advocacy group (Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights) has published a commentary on the relationship between courts and domestic violence and what judges can do to protect abused spouses and children and end the practice. Its recommendations are:

1. Enforcing existing laws. To the extent that a community has laws that make domestic violence a criminal matter, strict enforcement of these laws by judges can provide for “victim safety” and “increase batterer accountability.” It can also demonstrate to the community that assaults on spouses and children will be treated as serious crimes. Such a demonstration can also be strengthened by judges using appropriate orders of protection for victims, thus assuring that violations will be punished.

2. Exercising discretion in interpreting laws. Often judges have wide discretion in domestic violence cases, including sentencing (determining the type and length of punishment). Judges should adopt a “tough on abusers” approach to sentencing (more severe punishment) and curtail or limit the widespread action of suspending sentences. Judges should use their authority and discretion in ways that reinforce the criminal nature of domestic violence.

3. Establishing court and courtroom policies and procedures that “enhance victim safety” and reduce the chances that batterers will intimidate them. The can be done by providing separate facilities when court proceedings are imminent or under way. Another way that court and courtroom policies can assist in efforts to reduce domestic violence is to make access to courts and judges easier. Examples of such policies are establishing multiple locations and creating emergency hours where anti-stalking and “cease and desist” orders can be more easily obtained from a magistrate. Courtroom policies can also be adopted that increase coordination of the prosecution of domestic violence cases with the actions and activities of other government agencies that are or can be involved in therapeutic actions.

4. Training of judges and court personnel – “Training can provide judges with the information they need to better address the needs of battered women and insure better accountability,” and make them more aware of the severity of these crimes and their often severe impact on victims.

Domestic violence is  a world wide problem. Estimates are that four out of five victims of domestic violence are women. Domestic violence against a woman “violates the fundamental human right for women and often results in serious injury or death.” Domestic violence is an agenda item of the World Health Organization (WHO), the health arm of the United Nations. In 2013 it issued a comprehensive report on domestic violence: Global and Regional Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence, that should be required reading among judges and court personnel in all countries. The judges in all countries should support government efforts to reduce and eliminate this scourge on civilization, especially by taking stern action when the perpetrators appear in court, especially in the sentencing process.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2014 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
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