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Taking violence seriously

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While Kate Dobbs Ariail's article ["Burden of Proof," Aug. 2] focused on the highlights--or lowlights--of her jury service, she failed to recognize a number of more subtle aspects of the trial that deserve mention.

First, the Durham police officers involved in this case did their job: They treated an alleged incident of domestic violence as a crime. Sadly, there are law-enforcement officers all over the country, including here in the Triangle, who consider domestic violence a "family matter," and either tell the victim to take out his or her own charges, reprimand the victim for causing the problem or ignore the situation altogether. In this case, however, the officers took a detailed report, photographed the victim's injuries and arrested the defendant.

Second, the district attorney's office took this case seriously. The prosecutor, who likely is assigned to several hundred cases, had apparently taken the time to forge some sort of relationship with this particular victim prior to the trial. While some prosecutors' offices have special units that are set up to handle domestic violence cases (Durham is one), most do not. A casual examination of court dockets throughout North Carolina would likely reveal that domestic violence charges are routinely dismissed in many jurisdictions because victims recant prior statements or don't come to court. That did not happen in this case. It certainly would have been easier for the prosecutor to dismiss the charges given the circumstances, but the Durham district attorney's office got a conviction in this case in district court and prosecuted it on appeal, despite a number of procedural obstacles.

Third, the judicial system took this case seriously. While some judges are hostile toward "victimless" domestic violence prosecutions using evidentiary rules when victims do not appear in court, the judge in this case apparently allowed the "excited utterance" of the victim into evidence and otherwise treated it like any other criminal case.

The criminal justice system does have a way to go in becoming effective in dealing with domestic violence, and, given the particulars as detailed in the story, some prosecutors might have tried this case differently.

But instead of criticizing the prosecutor for trying an imperfect case, I will remember the many silver linings in the cloudy tale Ariail relates. I will also be glad that incidents of domestic violence are being dealt with as serious crimes in Durham's criminal justice system, rather than not being dealt with at all.

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