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Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

Understanding the law of West Virginia Domestic Violence Petitions

So, we end up doing a lot of domestic violence protective order litigation in both Greenbrier and Monroe County, WV.  This past week has to have been one of the craziest weeks on record, with some of the most insane, bizarre, and malicious, human behavior I’ve encountered in the past decade or so…..

As I sat trying to negotiate a resolution with one particular pro se (unrepresented by a lawyer) party a couple of days ago, it became apparent to me that people don’t know what the “F” they are doing….

  1.  Domestic Violence is bad, of course, but what is it, technically?

The West Virginia Legislature has adopted a civil remedy where victims of domestic violence can obtain what is essentially a restraining order.  So what is “domestic violence” according to this law?

The Prevention and Treatment of Domestic Violence Act, West Virginia Code §§ 48-27-101 et seq., defines “domestic violence” or “abuse” as specific acts between family or household members that involve:

1. Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing physical harm to another with or without dangerous or deadly weapons;

2. Placing another in reasonable apprehension of physical harm;

3. Creating fear of physical harm by harassment, stalking, psychological abuse or threatening acts;

4. Committing either sexual assault or sexual abuse as those terms are defined in articles eight-b [§§ 61- 8B-1 et seq.] and eight-d [§§ 61-8D-1 et seq.], chapter sixty-one of this code, and;

5. Holding, confining, detaining or abducting another person against their will. W. Va. Code § 48-27-202.

The statutory definition of domestic violence is narrower than the commonly accepted definition of domestic violence because it primarily defines domestic violence as acts of physical violence, and only includes psychological abuse when it creates fear of physical harm. Although psychological abuse may not meet the statutory definition of domestic violence by itself, this type of abuse may be relevant to a proceeding involving domestic violence because it provides evidence of an abuser’s motive, intent, or plan. Additionally, evidence of psychological abuse may provide insight into the actions of both the abuser and the victim.

In addition to the definitions set forth in West Virginia Code § 48-27- 202, the West Virginia Legislature has criminalized acts of domestic assault and domestic battery by the enactment of West Virginia Code § 61-2-28. The distinction between domestic assault or battery and non-domestic assault or battery is that the domestic abuse must occur between family or household members. The Legislature has also established enhanced penalties for subsequent domestic assault and battery convictions. The enhanced penalties demonstrate that the Legislature both recognizes the repetitive nature of domestic violence and punishes it accordingly.

Providing further protection for domestic violence victims, West Virginia Code § 61-2-9a criminalizes stalking, harassment, and threats. As with domestic assault and battery, this code section establishes enhanced penalties for subsequent convictions. It also authorizes a court to issue a restraining order for a period of up to ten years upon conviction. When a defendant is charged with either harassment or stalking, it is a condition of a bond that the defendant shall have no contact with the victim. Although this code section could be applied to situations that do not involve domestic violence, this code section provides meaningful protection for domestic violence victims because it criminalizes behavior typically identified as domestic violence.

 

Family Court Judges are taught the following, in addition to the actual wording of the statute:

Although the motive for domestic violence commonly involves domination and control, domestic violence perpetrators employ various methods to achieve that purpose.4 Common psychological tactics include emotional abuse, such as control over finances, repeated and degrading insults, and threats. An abuser is often extremely jealous or possessive, and may isolate a victim from friends, family and other relationships. As another psychological tactic, an abuser may threaten to gain full custody of children. An abuser may also throw things, punch walls or hurt pets.

In addition to emotional abuse, an abuser may push, shove, shake or grab a victim. Other forms of physical abuse include: slapping, kicking, biting or twisting arms, legs or fingers. An abuser may choke, strangle or smother a victim. An abuser may also threaten a victim with a weapon, such as a knife or a gun, and may commit assault with a weapon. Rape or other forced sexual contact is yet one more type of abuse. Physical acts of domestic violence may constitute criminal behaviors, and should not be minimized or tolerated because they are directed against family members.

See 2012 Domestic Violence Judicial Handbook.

 

2.   Some background on “domestic violence protective orders”

Although the motive for domestic violence commonly involves domination and control, domestic violence perpetrators employ various methods to achieve that purpose.4 Common psychological tactics include emotional abuse, such as control over finances, repeated and degrading insults, and threats. An abuser is often extremely jealous or possessive, and may isolate a victim from friends, family and other relationships. As another psychological tactic, an abuser may threaten to gain full custody of children. An abuser may also throw things, punch walls or hurt pets.

In addition to emotional abuse, an abuser may push, shove, shake or grab a victim. Other forms of physical abuse include: slapping, kicking, biting or twisting arms, legs or fingers. An abuser may choke, strangle or smother a victim. An abuser may also threaten a victim with a weapon, such as a knife or a gun, and may commit assault with a weapon. Rape or other forced sexual contact is yet one more type of abuse. Physical acts of domestic violence may constitute criminal behaviors, and should not be minimized or tolerated because they are directed against family members.

 

A protective order proceeding has the added advantage of a lower burden of proof. Often, there are no witnesses to domestic violence other than the abuser and the victim, and the evidence may not meet the criminal standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.

Although protective order proceedings provide a legal remedy for domestic violence victims, some professionals involved in the proceedings may question their efficacy.48 In a study examining victims’ strategies to combat domestic violence, the results indicated that 30% of the victims who obtained an initial ex parte protective order did not appear at the final hearing.49 Examining the reasons for this occurrence, it was noted that law enforcement failed to serve a petition in 50% of the cases, which in turn either delayed or prevented the entry of a final protective order. Also, petitioners did not attend a final hearing because of conflicts with employment or lack of childcare. A lack of legal representation was an additional reason that victims did not complete the process. Certainly, these institutional barriers must be addressed to increase the effectiveness of protective orders.

The study also indicated that the ex parte orders, in some cases, were sufficient to meet the victims’ needs. Specifically, victims noted that the ex parte order stopped the violence, allowed the victim to separate, or induced the abuser to seek counseling. Based upon these interviews, it was concluded that the failure to obtain a final protective order does not indicate “that the advocate has failed or the woman has been passive in the face of abuse.”50 Rather, protective orders, including ex parte orders, provide an effective legal remedy that can be tailored to meet the needs of domestic violence victims.

 

3.  There must be a “family or household member” relationship

The domestic violence protections and remedies under Chapter 48, Article 27 are tied to occurrences of violence or abuse between “family or household members” as that term is defined under this Act. The only time a proceeding under this Act may involve parties other than “family or household members” is when the petitioner is seeking protection as one who reported or witnessed domesticviolence. See W. Va. Code §§ 48-27-305(3); 48-27-504.

As provided in West Virginia Code § 48-27-204, “family or household members” means persons who:

(1) Are or were married to each other;(2) Are or were living together as spouses;
(3) Are or were sexual or intimate partners;
(4) Are or were dating: Provided, That a casual acquaintance or ordinary fraternization between persons in a business or social context does not establish a dating relationship;
(5) Are or were residing together in the same household;
(6) Have a child in common regardless of whether they have ever married or lived together;
(7) Have the following relationships to another person: (A) Parent; (B) Stepparent; (C) Brother or sister; (D) Half-brother or half-sister; (E) Stepbrother or stepsister; (F) Father-in-law or mother-in-law; (G) Stepfather-in-law or stepmother-in-law; (H) Child or stepchild; (I) Daughter-in-law or son-in-law; (J) Stepdaughter-in-law or stepson-in-law; (K) Grandparent; (L) Stepgrandparent; (M) Aunt, aunt-in-law or stepaunt; (N) Uncle, uncle-in-law or stepuncle; (O) Niece or nephew; (P) First or second cousin; or
(8) Have the relationships set forth in paragraphs (A) through (P), subdivision (7) of this section to a family or household member, as defined in subdivisions (1) through (6), of this section.

The length of this provision is the first indication that the class of persons covered by the term “family or household members” is fairly broad. The statutory definition can be generally broken down into three categories of covered persons. Determinations as to who falls within either of the first two categories is straightforward in most cases. More careful analysis is generally needed if the determination involves the third category of covered persons.

The first category, the “partner” relationships described in subsections (1) through (6) of the statute, encompass parties who are or were — married; living together (whether in a spousal relationship or simply residing in the same household); sexual partners; dating; or parents of a child. Second, the “kinship” categories listed in subsections (7)(A) through (P), cover many of the family connections by blood or marriage. The third category, the subsection (8) “tie-in” provision, brings two parties within the “family or household member” class as long as one party has a “kinship” relationship [under subsection (7)(A)-(P)] with someone who has or had a “partner” relationship [under subsections (1)-(6)] with the other party.

See 2012 Domestic Violence Judicial Handbook.

 

4.  The Logistics

Circuit courts, family courts and magistrate courts have concurrent jurisdiction over domestic violence proceedings. W. Va. Code § 48- 27-301; Rule 25, RDVCP. Emergency proceedings upon the filing of a petition for a protective order are held before a magistrate. W. Va. Code § 48-27-203.

Final hearings, following the entry of an emergency protective order by a magistrate, are typically heard before a family court judge. W. Va. Code § 48-27-205. However, circuit court judges may assist family court judges in the disposition of domestic violence caseloads by conducting protective order proceedings. Rule 25, RDVCP.

Appellate jurisdiction from a magistrate’s denial of an emergency protective order lies in the family court; and appeals from family court

 

5.  The Timeline

A petitioner denied a DVPO may appeal to the family court. The petition for appeal must be filed no later than five days following the denial, and must be heard by the family court within ten days from the date the appeal was filed. W. Va. Code § 48-27-510(a); Rule 18(a), RDVCP.

 

If the Temporary DVPO is granted, a final hearing before the family court must be scheduled to take place no later than ten days following the entry of the Temporary DVPO. W. Va. Code § 48-27-402(e).

Any party may file a petition for appeal following the grant or denial of a DVPO at the final hearing in Family Court. The petition must be filed within ten days following the decision of the family court. Rule 19(a), RDVCP. The circuit court is required to hear the appeal within ten days following the filing of the petition. W. Va. Code § 48-27-510(b) and (c); Rule 19(a), RDVCP.

 

6.  Never walk into court without a lawyer.  Period.  Especially not when the words “domestic violence” are in the subject line of the case…..

 

 

August 2, 2019 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Legislation, West Virginia Gun Laws | Leave a comment

Update, and some additional thoughts, on prosecutor mess in Kanawha County

Today there was an article in the Charleston Gazette about the Mark Plants mess in Kanawha County.

On Wednesday, Judge Duke Bloom barred Prosecutor Mark Plants’ office from handling cases involving child abuse and neglect, violent crimes against children by their parent, guardian or custodian and criminal violations of protective orders . . . .

The ruling is in response to a petition from the city of Charleston asking that Plants be disqualified from hearing cases brought by the Charleston Police Department.

Lawyers with the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a petition with the state Supreme Court asking that Plants be immediately suspended or disqualified from prosecuting domestic-violence cases involving parents and minor children. The ODC’s petition said Plants’ belief that the allegations against him aren’t a crime creates a conflict of interest for his office. The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on the matter for May 5.

So you have a city applying to a judge to disqualify the elected prosecutor from hearing certain cases, based on pending criminal charges.  Domestic violence accusations pop up from time to time in the personal lives of police officers.  The MO, in my experience, is that they are disarmed and given a desk job until the situation is resolved.  I wonder if the employer, e.g., the City of XYZ, has ever sought to protect the rights of the alleged victims/accusers in domestic violence cases where the investigating officers have had their own history of accusations?  And do they have standing to even have a say in the matter?  After all, the county prosecutor is a position elected by the citizens of the county.  Also, what about all the people who have previously been prosecuted for these types of crimes by Mr. Plants, or his office?  Do they now have some right to have their case reopened, or thrown out?

April 25, 2014 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Judges, Media Coverage, Police, Prosecutors | Leave a comment

Police Officers and Domestic Battery in West Virginia

From the Charleston Gazette this morning, there is an article about a Dunbar, West Virginia, police officer – George Ike Radar – who was charged with domestic battery for slapping his wife 20 times and pointing his finger into her chest.

Bravo to State Trooper E.B. McClung for arresting this jerk. But shame on the magistrate for letting him out on a $1,000 recognizance bond, which in my opinion is preferential treatment based on his status as a police officer.

The Dunbar police chief was quoted in the article as saying “everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and we need to get to the facts.” Since when do cops believe in the presumption of innocence? When one of them are charged themselves, that’s when…

Statistics (and personal observation) show that the wives of many law enforcement officers are the most battered and abused women in this country. Cops protect their own, and they know how to manipulate and abuse the system.

In fact, I was in court yesterday representing the wife of a law enforcement officer who, in preparation for filing a divorce, had his buddy law enforcement officer come over and arrest his wife for touching him in the chest. And you can be sure that she wasn’t given a $1,000 personal recognizance bond (which means they do not actually have to come up with any money). No, she was given a $2,500 cash bond, which means that she had to come up with cash or go to jail. And guess what? She was not allowed to retrieve any money or belongings from home, because (again, in preparation for his filing divorce) he immediately filed a domestic violence petition at the same time, which means that a protective order is placed into effect, and she cannot go home or see her kids.

You better believe that many cops actually are above the law, and they will not hesitate to lie or manufacture evidence to have their buddies arrest you. Then, guess what? The magistrates are also buddies with the cops, so you get a high cash bond and general unfairness in the courtroom. Then the prosecutors are also buddies with the cops and would rather put your case in front of the jury instead of pissing off the cops by dismissing the case.

Yesterday, the assistant prosecutor who appeared offered to dismiss the criminal charge if my client withdrew several motions and a hearing date in the former-couple’s divorce case! Is that not disgusting? Is that not a gross abuse of power? Is that not a violation of human rights?

When I called a spade a spade and told the assistant prosecutor that she should be ashamed of what she was doing, she said “how dare you… I have never… I have never… (blah, blah, blah).” That is actually the second time that a female prosecutor has said that to me. The first time it was said I probably deserved it, but not this time. I guess they take themselves a little more seriously than the male prosecutors. Or maybe they just refuse to sympathize with the female victims of their law enforcement buddies.

Can a cop in West Virginia really have his wife arrested and use the prosecutor to negotiate a better divorce settlement for him? Absolutely.

You can read the full article about the Dunbar officer here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

July 16, 2008 Posted by | Battery, Corruption, Domestic Violence, Lawyers, Police, Police Misconduct, Prosecutors | 1 Comment

Charleston Taco Bell Shooting Will Reverberate Around West Virginia

The Charleston Taco Bell shooting last Saturday, which is detailed in the Charleston Daily Mail here, is not one that will likely fade from memory. The perpetrator of this crime, Desmond Clark, gives new meaning to the term “bad apple,” and he has indeed just about ruined the probation system and the domestic violence petition system – for everyone.

I was talking to a former prosecutor and legislator the other day who was up-in-arms about this. Defense attorneys now are going to have an extremely hard time getting probation for their clients, especially in those domestic-related cases, which oftentimes are the same cases that subside on the flimsiest of evidence.

And for those of us who practice divorce and family law, the times just got tougher. What magistrate is going to deny a protective order in any situation now? This legislator joked that in just about every ugly divorce he has seen, there are skid marks from the marital home to the magistrate court, where the first spouse there takes out a domestic violence petition against the other. Then, what family law judge is going to release or dismiss the protective order, despite the sufficiency of the evidence? The end result is that the loser of the race to magistrate court ends up getting ousted from their house/belongings/children until the divorce is finalized.

So, the legislature has realized this system of domestic violence petitions is broken and largely abused. But, what can they do about it? For every 999 times this system is abused and misused, there is some legitimate victim out there like this poor woman who was murdered in the Taco Bell. But then again, she had a protective order in effect at the time she was murdered, and it didn’t help her very much.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

July 14, 2008 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Magistrates, Probation | Leave a comment

Police Chief Has Wife Arrested By Buddy Law Enforcement Officer

This is a story that I will detail in a later post if need be, but it rises to the situation where the public should be informed of this massive abuse of authority.

A southern West Virginia Chief of Police, who is a big guy and also a military veteran, had his little wife arrested by a buddy law enforcement officer for “domestic assault,” taken into physical custody, after which she was able to bond out with a $5,000 cash bond. For those of you who don’t know, $5,000 is the average bond for felonies in southern West Virginia.

This police chief then filed for divorce and refused to drop the frivolous criminal charge against her unless she agreed to his terms for the divorce. This story is continuing and may be updated based on future actions taken by the law enforcement officer.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

June 5, 2008 Posted by | Civil Liability, Conspiracy, Corruption, Domestic Violence, Police, Police Misconduct | 2 Comments

Special Prosecutor in Sawyers Case Arrested for Domestic Battery

From the Register-Herald:

Assistant prosecutor says he’s still on the job

Well, well, well. The tables have turned. This man requested to be appointed special prosecutor to the Greebrier County Sawyers case (see my previous posts) and pushed the grand jury for a felony battery charge. Now maybe a special prosecutor needs to be appointed and bring his charge before a special grand jury and try to indict him on a felony charge. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney.

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Despite reports, Dotson says he has not resigned or been fired after arrest

By Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

A Braxton County assistant prosecutor said Thursday he has neither resigned nor been fired from his position despite at least two separate news reports that indicated otherwise after he was arrested on a domestic assault charge last weekend.

Nicholas County Sheriff’s Deputy D.J. Holdren arrested Daniel Dotson Sunday at his Webster County home following an alleged incident with his wife at a Craigsville convenience store. Officials at Central Regional Jail in Flatwoods confirmed Dotson was photographed and processed on a domestic assault charge and was released after posting $2,000 bond.

The Charleston Gazette and Charleson Daiy Mail reported Thursday that Dotson had left his position as an assistant prosecutor under Braxton County Prosecutor Bill Martin. The Braxton Citizen News also published a story that Dotson was “no longer an employee” of Martin’s office, and the Pocahontas Times published the Braxton Citizens News story about Dotson on its Web site.

When reached by phone Thursday, Dotson denied those claims.

“Regardless of what was in the paper, I have not been terminated and I have been staying out of the office for a while until I can take care of other matters,” he said.

Martin did not return phone messages left with his secretary Thursday.

Dotson, who has been prosecuting cases since 1989 and was elected Webster County prosecutor in 1996, was appointed special prosecutor by the state Supreme Court last year in the case of a Greenbrier County sheriff’s deputy accused of beating county Prosecutor Kevin Hanson. The deputy, Kevin Sawyers, was indicted last week by a special grand jury on a misdemeanor battery charge.

“This will not affect my status as the special prosecutor in the Greenbrier County case,” Dotson said.

The director of the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute in Charleston said Thursday that Dotson was individually named special prosecutor in the Greenbrier case and only an order by a circuit court judge could remove him.

A special judge had not been named to hear the case as of late Thursday. Both Greenbrier County circuit court judges asked to be recused from the case.

Dotson, who was also named special prosecutor in a Pocahontas County case involving a sherif’f’s deputy, is scheduled to appear in court there for a hearing this morning. Dotson said he will be present for the hearing.

Although Dotson declined to specifically talk about the charges pending against him in Nicholas County, he did indicate his innocence.

“I am ready to defend myself in a court of law concerning those charges,” Dotson said.

— E-mail: cgiggenbach@register-herald.com

March 28, 2008 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Lawyers, Prosecutors | Leave a comment