Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Many Bad Decisions Can You Spot?

Background: Baltimore police received a domestic violence call from a woman who said she was assaulted by her boyfriend. They went to the home, took the woman's statement, noticed visible injuries on her body, and made the arrest.

Fast forward to the assault trial:

Last Wednesday, Wood appeared in district court in Essex for trial on charges of assault, but when the case was called, his lawyer proposed a whole different idea.

"He's asking for a postponement so he can go out and get married, come back and resolve the case. His wife will then invoke her privilege," the defense attorney said.

The lawyer was referring to the marital privilege that prevents a spouse from being required to testify against his or her husband or wife, Miller reported.

Wood and his fiancee weren't married, but the judge stepped in to fix that.

"Well, why don't I just marry them today in court?" Russell said.

"Well, your honor, if we could go and get the license now, I think that would be acceptable to all the parties," the defense attorney responded.

The judge advised that Wood and his fiancee would have to go to Towson to the circuit court where marriage licenses are issued, but he assured the defendant that he'd be available that same day to officiate the wedding.

"I'll marry them this afternoon," Russell said.

The marriage license was issued at 11:26 a.m. Two hours later, Wood and his fiancee were back at court in Essex and were married by Russell in his office, Miller reported.

The criminal case resumed 20 minutes later.

"Your honor, Mr. Wood now has his marriage license with him," the defense attorney said.

"I can take notice of that because I just married them -- performed the ceremony -- back in my chambers," Russell responded.

Wood's new wife then took the witness stand and invoked her marital privilege, Miller reported.

The case came to an abrupt end, with the judge making a parting comment.

"Mr. Wood, I found you not guilty, so I can't sentence you as a defendant in any crimes, but earlier today, I sentenced you to life married to her," Russell said.

Nowhere on the recording of the proceeding could the I-Team hear the judge ask the alleged victim if she wanted to get married.

Ordinarily, couples have to wait 48 hours between getting a license and actually getting married. A different judge agreed to waive that requirement in this case, Miller reported.

So what we have here is a judge who decides to actively participate in the defense of a batterer and ensure that the victim has additional barriers in place (the time and cost associated with a divorce, plus possible cultural and religious values that look down on divorce) to keep her from being able to leave. How emboldened must this batterer feel to know that he was coming to be held accountable for his actions and, instead, the legal system helped him trap his victim even more soundly?

Now can you spot the good decision?

A Baltimore County judge has been reassigned following a story by the 11 News I-Team about his handling of a domestic violence case last week.

Judge Darrell Russell has been reassigned to chambers work, I-Team lead investigative reporter Jayne Miller said. He will not be hearing any cases for an indefinite period of time.
Too bad the damage to this woman's life has already been done.

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