Skippy Funiquatz* came into the office for an initial interview. He was charged with malicious property damage and communicating a threat of bodily harm to his live-in girlfriend. Skippy wasn’t too worried because, he happily informed me “We made up and she wants to drop the charges”.
“It’s not that easy, Skippy” I said, “At this point, even though your girlfriend is the alleged victim in the case, she’s simply a means to an end. The state is always reluctant to drop domestic violence cases because it looks really, really bad when the complainant winds up in the hospital or the morgue a week after the charges are dismissed.”
Skippy told me that it doesn’t make any sense. “We LOVE each other!” he exclaimed. “What if she doesn’t show up for court?”
I hate it when clients ask me this question. We all know that the state’s case is hampered when the victim disappears but it’s not up to me to help that process along.
“That’s all well and good, Skippy but you have to realize something,” I said, ignoring the question “but the complaint reads ‘THE PEOPLE v. Skippy’ not ‘SIGNIFICANT OTHER v. Skippy’.” I continued, “Your girlfriend went to the grand jury and swore you threatened to kill her. The cop who arrested you read his report into the record and took pictures of the broken furniture in your apartment. In effect, the DA really doesn’t need her to make their case.”
I don’t mean to imply that ADAs, especially those who handle DV and SVU prosecutions aren’t truly concerned about the welfare of the victims in these cases. I think many of them do lose sleep at night worrying, not about the political ramifications of a decision to decline prosecution but rather for the physical well being of the victim in a DV case that doesn’t go forward. However, those folks on the law enforcement side of the fence are required to the uphold law and sometimes, as in the case above, public policy takes precedence over what may be best for the parties involved in the case.
By contrast, criminal defense investigators and attorneys share a mandate to protect a client’s constitutional rights without regard to actual guilt or innocence. We have no choice in the matter and this relieves us of having to worry about divided loyalties, (i.e. the welfare of a victim versus the interests of the state).
On the other hand I doubt any one of us, in all honesty doesn’t occasionally think about what may happen in our client’s troubled relationship once we close our file on the case.
In the end, we can’t take responsibility for the actions of others. We can only strive to do our jobs and do them well. But if the realities of the work start to get you down, share your feelings with a friend who will understand where you're coming from
* This is a fictional case with fictional characters.