Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News


When violence
hits home

Stuck between love and fear, hate and hope, victims of domestic violence may waver when it comes to putting their loved ones in jail. That's a problem for isle police and prosecutors, who are trying new approaches in their bid to help. What's needed is more change, experts say. And time.

By Rod Ohira

Physical abuse and verbal threats that may have been tolerated by past generations are crimes today.

Even so, the criminal justice system is still formulating strategies to deal with domestic violence and its many complex issues.

"Today's problems are the result of yesterday's solutions," said Detective Bernie Campbell, a trainer for the police department's Family Violence Detail. "This is not a quick fix.

"This is all new, so we're learning as we go," she added.

"We don't have data or research to call up, so we're not going to see the benefits until the next generation."

Domestic violence runs the gamut from misdemeanor assaults to murder, but police and prosecutors are often dealing with uncooperative victims, most of them women.

"What makes these cases difficult is that the victim and perpetrator have an ongoing relationship," Campbell said. "I don't think we can fully comprehend the dynamics of love and fear, hate and hope that victims feel."

They want the violence to stop but don't want to see their loved ones go to jail, Campbell said.

"In domestic violence, you're dealing with emotion rather than rational thought," said Lynne Jenkins McGivern, head of the Prosecuting Attorney's Domestic Violence Unit.

Besides fear, it's common for victims to experience guilt about reporting an incident involving a loved one, McGivern says.

The emotional factor is the major reason why victims are reluctant to pursue prosecution, says Cindy Spencer, a victim advocate for the prosecutor's Domestic Violence Unit.

"It's like a prisoner-of-war situation," Spencer said.

"If you capture a person with fear, that person is not going to be thinking about escaping but just surviving."

Outgoing Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro developed a strategy for dealing with recanting witnesses.

"In order to preserve a witness's testimony, we take cases to preliminary hearing," Kaneshiro said. "If you preserve the testimony with preliminary-hearing transcripts, you can still present the case (for trial).

"That's how we won the Robert Moore case without the victim testifying," he added. In 1993, Moore was convicted of shooting and wounding his wife, Lani, even though she refused to testify against him.

Six deputy prosecutors handle about 250 felony cases a year while six others, assigned to Family Court on a rotating basis, get 4,500 misdemeanor cases annually, McGivern said.

Police, too, have adopted new strategies.

A more proactive stance toward temporary restraining order violations was adopted this year. Rather than merely filing a report if the violator is no longer at the scene, police will track down and arrest the suspect.

"There's no time frame for making an arrest," said Wallace Choy, the Family Violence Detail's administrative sergeant.

Choy also noted that police are working on a tracking system to keep tabs on TRO violators.

"It will include lethality factors such as prior history of abuse, prior history of TRO violations, access to weapons, threats, substance abuse," Choy said.

Seven detectives are assigned to the Family Violence Detail headed by Lt. Karen Kaniho, which received over 15,000 cases last year. Adult and Child Protective Services and police are mandated by law to do cross-reporting, an information-sharing move that has bridged a major gap in the system.

While police, prosecutors and the courts are taking a zero-tolerance approach toward domestic violence, the lack of prison space defeats the effort, some say.

"It's a total revolving door," McGivern said. "If somebody pleads guilty to a felony and is sentenced to one year in jail and doesn't spend two days there, what does it say to a victim who sticks her neck out to testify?

"And for someone who has taken a big step toward self-help by getting a TRO, it's the ultimate betrayal of the system if we can't protect her when the court order has been violated," she added. "I think Keith Kaneshiro (as incoming state Public Safety director) recognizes the need and will stop the revolving door."

Nancy Kreidman, executive director of the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse, said a significant commitment is needed for the system to go the distance with domestic violence.

"We haven't devoted the kind of resources and designed a system that makes good on past promises of zero tolerance for domestic violence," Kreidman said.

"Services available to victims are slim and short-term.

"The community would like to think the solution is for the victim to leave (an abusive relationship)," she added. "But a lot follows the crisis. We need to give the victim the help she needs so she'll know she made the right choice."

Candidates for
Honolulu prosecutor:

“In 100 words or less, describe the key points of your strategy for prosecuting felony and misdemeanor offenses related to domestic abuse.”

David Arakawa:

Create a new Domestic Violence Unit for both felony and misdemeanor cases, as much as possible having one prosecutor and victim advocate to handle each case from start to finish.

Use corroborating evidence, including: tape recording of the victim's 911 emergency call; photos and videotapes of the victim's injuries, the crime scene and the abuser; statements from neighbors and children.

Submit legal motions requesting admission of the abuser's prior bad acts, and spontaneous statements made to the police by the abuser and the victim. Utilize expert witnesses to explain the dynamics of domestic violence relationships to the court and juries.

Peter Carlisle:

There are a number of identifiable problems with the prosecution of felony and misdemeanor offenses related to domestic abuse. My strategies for such cases include:

1) Eliminate the current practice of allowing plea-bargaining of such cases to offenses that carry no mandatory jail time and permitting abusers to have their records wiped clean.

2) Police and prosecutors must investigate and prepare such cases as if the victim will not testify, as is done in murder cases.

3) Create a unit of highly trained prosecutors to vigorously enforce temporary restraining orders, prosecute non-complaint probationers and handle cases vertically.

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