|Banks County Opinions...||
April 4, 2001
By Shar Porier
The Banks County News
April 4, 2001
When the court lets him go
The very words have a ring of terror, of fear for women who daily live with the threat of abuse hanging over their heads.
Women abused by their husbands and boyfriends. Beaten, bloodied and murdered -- all in the name of "love."
The Domestic Violence Task Force says at every one of their bi-monthly meetings: "The most dangerous time for a woman is when she tries to leave."
Those words apparently rang true for a case in Alto recently when the girlfriend of the warden at Lee Arrendale Correctional Institution told him she wanted to split up. An argument reportedly ensued that allegedly left her battered and bruised.
She called 911, but then told the responding officers she did not want to press charges. They did anyway under Georgia's Family Violence Act.
They followed the letter of the law. They took her statements and took photos of her bruises and scratches. They went to Joe Smelzer, magistrate judge, and on the basis of that evidence, he issued an arrest warrant. The police officers then worked with the solicitor to bring the case to trial.
But the warden appealed the warrant at a probable cause hearing presided over by Magistrate Judge James Butterworth.
The woman appeared before Judge Butterworth and asked that the case be dropped. She told the judge that she did not fear the warden and that she had never been beaten by him before.
The solicitor told Butterworth there was enough evidence to proceed to trial. But without so much as a glance at the evidence (photos, her statement, the 911 call recording) offered by the solicitor and the Baldwin Police Department, Butterworth dismissed the case solely upon her request.
He said he does that at least twice a week. Twice a week! I felt ill. I thought about other women out there who had been, or were in, the very same position. The chance was there to stop the abuser and get him psychological help, and the system balked. I wondered how many times this had happened. Perhaps some women hope in their hearts that the courts would take it out of their hands and seek justice on their behalf. Though they were in fear and unable to defend themselves, the court was there to do what they could not do.
I started looking at the sentences that were being handed down when cases did make it to court. I was shocked. An abuser would get a sentence of 90 days while someone with some marijuana would get six years. It makes no sense.
In the Baldwin case, though, some justice was found, no thanks to the court. The Georgia Department of Corrections came down hard on the warden. They fired him for six charges of misconduct stemming from the incident. Their aggressive action on the issue of domestic violence shows where they stand. The department should be applauded and supported. They did what a judge failed to do.
As long as judges let men off the hook so easily, we'll only see more and more cases of domestic abuse and perhaps of murder.
Maybe we can't do anything about the abuser, but we sure can do something about the judges. On election day.
Shar Porier is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers.
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