In The Courts, Assaults Treated Differently If A Result Of Domestic Violence
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Some pro-football players involved in domestic abuse stories have gotten some pretty light sentences. Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was order to get counseling in what's called a pre-trial diversion program. Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers got probation and a suspended 60 day jail term while he appeals his conviction. We wondered if domestic violence sentences are typically lighter than sentences for say, assaulting a stranger. A couple of weeks ago, Kim Gandy, the president of the National Network to End Domestic Abuse, told us this about Rice's sentence.
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KIM GANDY: I can't imagine that that kind of pretrial diversion would've been offered in the case of a violent crime committed against a stranger.
SIEGEL: Well, today we're going to hear from someone else who studies domestic abuse and specifically the way the criminal justice system handles it. He is Andrew Klein. Welcome to the program.
ANDREW KLEIN: Thank you.
SIEGEL: And first, how do sentences for domestic abuse generally compare with sentences handed down for say assaulting someone who isn't a domestic partner or assaulting a stranger?
KLEIN: Well, the first thing you have to understand is the criminal justice response is not uniform across the country. It varies by state by court by court and judge by judge and prosecutor by prosecutor within the states. But generally the pattern is that domestic violence is not taken as seriously as other crimes. It's less likely to be prosecuted, it's more likely to have the case diverted from court and the person is less likely to end up in prison or jail.
SIEGEL: Let me put this to you and let's say we're not talking about a professional football player, right now. If a man punched, slugged and knocked out his girlfriend or his wife and then dragged her out of an elevator, would he be less likely to face prosecution and incarceration than if he did the same thing to someone who wasn't his wife or his girlfriend? And let's start with saying if were a man, would he face the same kind of punishment or it were a woman would he face the same kind of punishment?
KLEIN: You know, again there's no uniform answer because states and prosecutors differ. But generally that would be treated less seriously than if it were a stranger assault of either sex.
SIEGEL: When prosecutors are called on the decision not to prosecute instances of domestic abuse, typically what do they say, what are their reasons?
KLEIN: Typically they blame the victim. They say the victim isn't cooperative. Or they say that it's the person's first offense and generally we know that's not true. It's like drunk driving. If you're arrested for drunk driving it's probably, statistically, almost impossible that that was the first and only time you've ever been drunk driving. Same thing with domestic violence - certainly if you've already escalated to the level that you're knocking someone unconscious or you have your hands around their neck and youâre strangling them. This is not a first offender, who's never going to do it again. This is patterned behavior. It's escalating dangerous behavior and it should be taken very seriously.
SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Klein, thank you very much for talking with us today.
KLEIN: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: That's Andrew Klein, who is a senior associate researcher with Advocates for Human Potential. It's a consulting firm.
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Correction Sept. 24, 2014
In an earlier audio version of this story, it was stated that strangulation is treated as a misdemeanor in North Carolina. In fact, strangulation is a felony in that state if there is serious bodily injury.