Category Archives: Florida Lawyer

Sweeping Ruling on Domestic Violence

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a broad interpretation of a federal law that makes it a crime for people convicted of domestic violence to possess guns.

The court refused to consider a challenge to the law based on the Second Amendment, saying that argument had received only a “cursory nod” in the briefs. Instead, the court considered the meaning of the term domestic violence, with the majority concluding that it encompassed acts “that one might not characterize as ‘violent’ in a nondomestic context.”

The case concerned James A. Castleman, a Tennessee man who in 2001 was convicted of assault in state court for causing bodily injury to the mother of his child. Court records do not say precisely what he did or what injuries the woman sustained.

When Mr. Castleman was indicted under the federal gun law, he argued that it did not apply to him because his state conviction did not qualify as a crime of domestic violence. Though the federal law defines a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” as one involving the use of physical force, he argued that the state law under which he was charged did not require proof of such force.

A federal trial judge agreed, saying one could theoretically violate the state law by tricking a victim into drinking a poisoned beverage. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, affirmed the trial court’s decision.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed that decision, though the justices disagreed on the rationale.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for six justices, said that domestic violence must be understood broadly to include “seemingly minor acts.” The word violence standing alone connotes substantial force, she said, but that is not true of domestic violence.

She gave examples of what might qualify as only domestic violence: pushing, grabbing, shoving, hair pulling and “a squeeze of the arm that causes a bruise.”

Since Mr. Castleman had pleaded guilty to having “caused bodily injury,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, the use of physical force serious enough to amount to domestic violence could be assumed.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion.

In a concurrence, Justice Antonin Scalia agreed that the federal law applied to Mr. Castleman. But he objected to the notion that domestic violence encompassed more acts than violence did, calling that an absurdity “at war with the English language.”

Justice Scalia criticized Justice Sotomayor for relying on “law-review articles, foreign government bureaus and similar sources” for her broader definition. Such sources, he said, “are entitled to define ‘domestic violence’ any way they want.”

“But when they (and the court) impose their all-embracing definition on the rest of us, they not only distort the law, they impoverish the language,” Justice Scalia wrote. “When everything is domestic violence, nothing is. Congress will have to come up with a new word (I cannot imagine what it would be) to denote actual domestic violence.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a separate concurrence in the case, United States v. Castleman, No. 12-1371.

Maryland considers making violent offenders do more time if a child sees the crime

The boy hadn’t heard the 911 tape before. But on this day, as he sits at the dining room table in his family’s apartment, he tells his mother he’s ready. He’s 14 now, no longer a terrified 9-year-old, and he wants to hear what he told authorities the night he almost lost her. 

Reluctantly, she pushes play on her laptop. The sound of distant crying and shouting fills the room before a 911 operator ask his name and then, “What’s the problem?”
“This man is trying to kill my mommy,” a small voice replies.

“Does he have any weapons?”

“Yes, he has a knife,” the boy says and then shouts away from the receiver, “PLEASE! Don’t kill her!”

Erin Curtis walks out of the room. She can’t hear any more. Her 14-year-old can’t stop listening. Tears now flow down his face.

In coming weeks, Maryland lawmakers will decide on legislation that calls for increased penalties for violent crimes committed in front of children, part of what some victim advocates consider the latest phase in addressing the nation’s serious domestic violence problem. Advocates, child therapists and survivors like Curtis say if it is approved, Maryland’s new law would mark both a practical and symbolic victory, allowing families to feel safe from abusers longer and recognizing the invisible victims of domestic violence. It would acknowledge, they say, what they’ve seen firsthand: Children don’t have to be touched to be traumatized.

Read the entire story here:

Domestic Violence: Often an Invisible Crime

And sometimes – far too frequently – these domestic violence cases become homicide cases. Here’s another statistic – more than 1,000 women are murdered by a husband or boyfriend in the United States each year. Put another way, 30 percent of all of women killed in this country are killed by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence affects every community, across every ethnic group and socioeconomic class. It is a public health crisis – and one that is still severely under-reported. In New York, even as the citywide murder rate plunges to historic lows, domestic violence assaults and murders have not followed suit. As one observer put it, what good is living in the safest big city in the world if you are not safe in your own home?

What we see in so many cases is that domestic violence victims like Sylvie try to leave abusive relationships, but, for one reason or another, cannot. Abusers maintain a physical, emotional, and oftentimes financial hold over their victims, from which escape can seem impossible.

So what can we do to better help these victims? I believe that easily accessible resources that provide support and the means to leave abusive relationships are essential to combating domestic violence. When I first took office as the Manhattan DA four years ago, one of my top priorities was to open a Family Justice Center. After a great deal of support from the Mayor’s office and advocacy groups across the city, I am excited to announce that the center will open next month.

50 Facts About Domestic Violence

50 Facts About Domestic Violence

1.Number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq: 6,614:
2.Number of women, in the same period, killed as the result of domestic violence in the US: 11,766
3.Number of people per minute who experience intimate partner violence in the U.S.: 24
4.Number of workplace violence incidents in the U.S. annually that are the result of current or past intimate partner assaults: 18,700
5.Number of women in the U.S. who report intimate partner violence: 1 in 4
6.Number of men in the U.S. who report intimate partner violence: 1 in 7*
7.Number of women who will experience partner violence worldwide: 1 in 3
8.Order of causes of death for European women ages 16-44: domestic violence, cancer, traffic accidents
9.Increase in likelihood that a woman will die a violent death if a gun in present in the home: 270 percent
10.Number of women killed by spouses who were shot by guns kept by men in the home in France and South Africa: 1 in 3
11.Percentage of the 900 million small arms that are kept in the home, worldwide: 75
12.Country in which 943 women were killed in honor killings in 2011: Pakistan
13.City in which man “butchered” his wife in front of their six children in 2012: Berlin
14.States in which man decapitated his wife with a chainsaw in 2010 and another man did the same, respectively: Texas and New York
15.Percentages of people killed in the U.S. by an intimate partner: 30 percent of women, 5.3 percent of men.
16.Number of gay and bisexual men who experience domestic violence in the U.S.: 2 in 5 (similar to heterosexual women)
17.Percentage of the 31 Senate votes cast against the Violence Against Women Act that came from older, white, male Republicans: 95.8
18.Percentage of the 31 Senate votes cast against the Violence Against Women Act that came from a younger, male Republicans, at least one of whom sits on the Science Committee but is unable to say how old the Earth is: 4.2
19.Number of legal, medical, professional, faith-based and advocacy groups that signed a letter protesting the stripped-down VAWA: 300
20.First year that the Republican-led House of Representatives eroded VAWA of provisions designed to increase protections for Native Americans, immigrant women, members of the LGTBQ community and, yes, men: 2012
21.Estimated number of children, worldwide, exposed to domestic violence everyday: 10,000,000
22.Worldwide, likelihood that a man who grew up in a household with domestic violence grows up to be an abuser: 3 to 4 times more likely than if he hadn’t.
23.Chance that a girl of high school age in the U.S. experiences violence in a dating relationship: 1 in 3
24.Percentage of teen rape and abuse victims who report their assailant as an intimate: 76
25.Percentage of U.S. cities citing domestic abuse as the primary cause of homelessness: 50
26.Percentage of homeless women reporting domestic abuse: 63
27.Percentage of homeless women with children reporting domestic abuse: 92
28.Percentage of women with disabilities who report violence: 40
29.Annual cost of domestic violence in the U.S. related to health care: $5.8 billion
30.Annual cost of domestic violence in the U.S. related to emergency care plus legal costs, police work, lost productivity: 37 billion dollars
31.Annual number of jobs lost in the U.S. as a result of intimate partner violence: 32,000
32.Percentage change between 1980 and 2008 of women and men killed by intimate partners in the U.S.: (w) 43 percent to 45 percent; (m) 10 percent to 5 percent
33.Average cost of emergency care for domestic abuse related incidents for women and men according to the CDC: $948.00 for women, $387 for men
34.Increase in portrayals of violence against girls and women on network TV during a five year period ending in 2009: 120 percent
35.The number one cause of death for African American women ages 15-34 according to the American Bar Association: homicide at the hands of a partner
36.Chance that a lesbian** in the U.S. will experience domestic (not necessarily intimate partner) violence: 50 percent
37.Chances that a gay man experiences domestic violence: 2 out of 5*
38.Ratio of women shot and killed by a husband or intimate partner compared to the total number of murders of men by strangers using any time of weapon, from 2002 homicide figures: 3X
39.Number of people who will be stalked in their lifetimes: 1 in 45 men and 1 in 12 women (broken out: 17 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women; 8.2 percent of white women, 6.5 pecent of African American women, and 4.5 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander women)
40.Percentage of stalkers identified as known to victims: 90.3
41.Percentage of abused women in the U.S. who report being strangled by a spouse in the past year: 33 to 47.3 (this abuse often leaves no physical signs)
42.According to one study, percentage of domestic abuse victims who are tried to leave after less severe violent and nonviolent instances of abuse: 66 versus less than 25
43.Average number of times an abuser hits his spouse before she makes a police report: 35
44.No. 1 and No. 2 causes of women’s deaths during pregnancy in the U.S.: Domestic homicide and suicide, often tied to abuse
45.Number of women killed by spouses who were shot by guns kept by men in the home in the United States: 2 in 3
46.Percentage of rape and sexual assault victims under the age of 18 who are raped by a family member: 34
47.Number of women killed everyday in the U.S. by a spouse: 3+
48.The primary reason cited by right-wing conservatives for objecting to the Violence Against Women Act: To protect the family.
49.Percentage reduction in reports of violence after men and women in South Africa went through an educational training program on health, domestic violence and gender norms: 55
50.Number of members of Congress who have gone through an educational training program on health, economics, violence, and gender norms: 0

Gun law aimed at domestic violence offenders vexes court

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court struggled Wednesday with how to keep guns away from domestic violence offenders without penalizing those who are not truly violent.

While the key to the debate was guns, the justices spent most of their time trying to define violence and differentiating it from actions that merely cause injury, whether intentional or not.

The differences are important, because a federal law aimed at denying guns to those with misdemeanor convictions of domestic violence relies on definitions within state laws. In 28 states and the District of Columbia, for instance, assault and battery statutes include provisions for mere touching.

That got the justices to wondering what type of domestic violence could lead to a federal conviction for possessing a gun.

“If I punch somebody in the nose, is that violence?” Justice Antonin Scalia asked.

“How about pinching or biting, hair-pulling, shoving, grabbing, hitting, slapping?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“If the victim is at the top of the stairwell and you go, ‘Boo!’ and he or she falls down and is injured, is that physical force?” Chief Justice John Roberts chimed in.

And Justice Anthony Kennedy raised the specter of a photographer who says, “‘Back up two steps,’ so that the other person falls over the cliff. That’s physical force?”

Faced with the barrage of hypothetical questions, assistant solicitor general Melissa Arbus Sherry said the law passed by Congress was intended to go after wife-beaters, not “someone tickling their wife with a feather.”