Calif. bill removes jail threat for victims
SACRAMENTO—Domestic violence victims who refuse to testify against their abuser would no longer be threatened with jail time under legislation sent Monday to the governor.The bill by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, instead would allow judges to order victims to attend counseling or fulfill community service.
It was passed by the Assembly on a 42-22 vote, after an emotional debate in which lawmakers were asked to decide whether domestic violence victims should be punished as a way to put their abusers behind bars.
“The important thing to remember is these are victims of a heinous crime,” said Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge. “These are victims who oftentimes have young children. To say to these victims you can face incarceration and time away from your children because you yourself (have) been a victim is just wrong.”
Supporters of the bill said victims are less likely to report abuse if they think they might be locked up for failing to testify in court.
Instead, advocacy groups asked lawmakers to change the law so domestic violence victims are given the same rights as victims of sexual assault. Since 1991, sexual assault victims have been shielded from jail time if they decide not to testify in a criminal case.
“If they don’t want to testify against their batterer, they should not have to be re-victimized, to be forced to do something against their will,” said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. “I know this is a very difficult issue for many folks.”
Current law allows a court to lock up a domestic violence victim on a second contempt charge. It’s a tool prosecutors say is sometimes needed to force testimony critical to win a case.
Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, a former prosecutor who has tried domestic violence cases, said victims could put themselves in more harm by not testifying against their abuser.
“Do I have a hard time of government thinking it knows better than the victim? Absolutely,” said Spitzer, R-Orange. “You, us, may take a very important tool away, and then she’s going to end up killing him or he’s going to kill her and the children.”
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position