Friday, October 19, 2007

Through the Looking Glass: A Striking New World

Defendant Michael Antonio Webb (6 feet, 3 inches tall, 315 pounds), of Columbia, MD, charged with second-degree assault on his girlfriend, which crime was witnessed in full by none other than a female police officer:

"Your honor, she asked to be hit in the face three times. Look, that's her over there--see? She's not disagreeing with me, so you know it's true."*

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul Harris, after acquitting Webb:

"You have very rare cases; sadomasochists sometimes like to get beat up."

In the messy world of domestic violence cases, often complicated by a lover's willingness to forgive, this one had a promising twist for prosecutors: Though the woman refused to testify against her boyfriend, a police officer said she had witnessed the attack in a Laurel gas station parking lot.

But Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul Harris, in a decision that has victims' rights advocates crying foul, acquitted the man charged with second-degree assault after he was accused of striking his girlfriend three times in the face. The judge said that without the woman's testimony, he could not be sure that she hadn't consented to the attack. [...]

Byron L. Warnken, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said in many cases, key elements of a crime are often proved through "reasonable inferences."

"Unless he found that the officer was not credible, it appears that there would be enough by which a typical fact-finder, a reasonable fact-finder, would have found the element of second- degree assault to exist in that case beyond a reasonable doubt," Warnken said. "The notion that you can't possibly try this case without the victim there is incorrect. What would we do in a murder case?"

Unfortunately for rape and domestic violence victims nationwide, this judge is not an anomaly. And his conduct throughout--the wildly inappropriate comments, the specific directions to the jury that they must prove "the defendant's actions were not consented to by the victim"--strongly suggest a few disturbing notions. That Judge Harris is a deeply misogynistic creature, for one. That Judge Harris is behaving, and ruling, unethically and even unconstitutionally, for two and three.

* paraphrased based on the eye-witness report
** direct quoting of Judge Harris

(H/T Lisa S.)

Also at Shakesville.

No comments:

Post a Comment