Some recent tragedies have pushed domestic violence to the forefront of many Hawaiian minds. Reform efforts have also been underway in the state as lawmakers sought to pass a bill aimed at making prosecution easier in domestic cases.
Unfortunately, the current bill that’s before legislators seems destined to fail already — probably because the issue is so complex. Some felt that the current bill didn’t adequately address all of the potential concerns for both those accused of familial violence and their alleged victims.
It’s important to remember that measures designed to protect the victims of violence also have a direct impact on the lives of those accused of being violent. Those accused are often subject to numerous restrictions on their personal liberties pending the disposition of the case — based solely on the word of an alleged victim. While many accusations are certainly legitimate, the system is also sometimes abused by people who are angry at their romantic partner over a breakup or some other issue.
The new bill would have made securing a conviction easier by giving prosecutors the option of charging the accused with a petty misdemeanor instead of a regular misdemeanor or a felony. Those charged with petty crimes aren’t permitted a trial by jury and can only be sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Essentially, that means that a judge would decide the fate of anyone accused on scant (or absent) evidence. Judges might be inclined to give the victim the benefit of the doubt due to the societal pressure not to let an abuser go unpunished. That could significantly impair the abilities of the accused to get a fair trial.
The Public Defender’s Office opposed the new bill on that very basis, saying that it essentially denied domestic abuse defendants their rights to a trial by their peers. Prosecutors, naturally, are in favor of the new proposals because it makes convictions easier when the evidence is too weak to secure a more severe penalty.
If this bill fails, as expected, it’s likely the issue will continue to be a hot-button topic between lawmakers, those in the legal profession and the public for some time to come.
Source: Hawaii News Now, “Advocates ‘outraged’ as domestic violence bills poised to fail,” Mahealani Richardson, April 11, 2018