Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Decision T-045 of 1995 Constitutional Court of Colombia (1995)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The plaintiff filed a writ of constitutional challenge and requested the respondents, the plaintiff’s common-law partner for fifteen years and his current live-in partner, not disturb her home and that the house in which she was currently residing be granted to her. The trial court denied the relief sought on the grounds that the plaintiff could resort to other legal means such as liquidation of the partnership at will. The appeal court affirmed. The Constitutional Court denied the writ on lack of evidence showing torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. The Court did not equate a declaration of intent to sue (by the respondents over the property) to taking the law into one’s own hands, duress or threats against the person or family of the petitioner. The Court concluded that the plaintiff was independently employed and was not defenseless or subordinate to her former partner, and she had other legal means to enforce her rights.

Felton v. Felton Supreme Court of Ohio (1997)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Trial court issued a protective order based on testimony of violent episodes of appellant’s husband.  Because of these episodes, she feared that he would kill her.  She filed criminal charges of domestic violence against him, and the county court issued a temporary protection order.  The court held that the testimony regarding the former husband’s violent tendencies warranted the issuance of a protective order, and the fact that the marriage dissolution decree already forbade them from harassing each other didn’t bar the issuance of the order.  It held that the preponderance of the evidence standard applied.

Moore v. Moore South Carolina Supreme Court (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The court affirmed an order of protection in favor of the wife.  The husband had challenged the order and statutory authority on due process and equal protection grounds.  Police had arrested and charged the husband with criminal domestic violence after the couple’s son had called police and reported that the husband had become “physically abusive with him and his mother and threatened them with a weapon.”   The husband was released the next day on bond and ordered to not go near the family’s residence.  Despite the order, he drove by and entered the yard, removing several items.  The wife “filed an action pursuant to Section 20-4-50 of the ‘Protection from Domestic Abuse Act’ requesting an emergency hearing and an Order of Protection against Husband.”  At the hearing both the husband and wife appeared without counsel.  The judge asked the wife if she wanted counsel; she said she wanted to proceed with the hearing without counsel.  The husband also requested counsel; however, the judge denied the request, stating that the wife wanted to go forward.  The judge concluded that the husband had abused both wife and son, and issued an order of protection which, inter alia, “restrained Husband from committing any further abuse or from having contact with Wife and the parties’ two minor children; awarded Wife temporary custody of the parties’ children; ordered husband to pay temporary child and spousal support; and awarded Wife temporary possession of the marital home.”  The husband later, with counsel, filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the issuance of the order violated due process because he didn’t have sufficient notice and opportunity to answer with the assistance of counsel.  The court held that the husband did receive procedural due process prior to the issuance of the Order of Protection.  However, it also found that an order of protection issued pursuant to an emergency hearing is temporary, and another hearing should be conducted by the family court at a later date.  Findings of fact are definitive and therefore improper under the statute without the assistance of counsel.  Applying that finding to this case, the court held that the finding of physical abuse was not a final adjudication and therefore could not be used against the husband in future litigation.

State v. Prince South Carolina Supreme Court (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Prince and his wife were married for two years.  After their divorce, his wife, Tabitha, moved into her own apartment with their son, Matthew.  Prince began visiting her occasionally without invitation or notice, under the pretext of wanting to see their son.  Despite a restraining order, Prince showed up at her apartment several times.  On one occasion, Prince slashed her tires and defaced her car.  Prince was later indicted for aggravated stalking and malicious property damage.  Prince’s counsel argued that damage to property “is not an act of violence under South Carolina Code section 16-3-1700(C) . . . sufficient to support a charge of aggravated stalking.”  The court, acknowledging that this was an issue of first impression, disagreed with Prince’s counsel, and concluded that an act of violence, for purposes of the statute, included an act of violence against property, not just against persons.  The court stated, “in our state, stalking can take many forms; it can be either a pattern of conduct causing fear of damage to one’s person, or a pattern of conduct causing fear of damage to one’s property.  If simple stalking can consist of fear of property damage, it logically follows that aggravated stalking can consist of actual property damage.”  It noted that requiring bodily injury in order to be found guilty of aggravated stalking does not promote the public policy of wanting the anti-stalking law to prevent bodily injury or death.

Crawford v. Commonwealth Supreme Court of Virginia (2000)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Sarah Crawford ended an abusive relationship with her husband but remained fearful of him and took various precautions to protect herself, including applying for an order of protection.  She signed an affidavit for the order, in which she recounted instances of past abuse, including threats to her life.  The following month, she was found murdered and evidence overwhelmingly pointed to her ex-husband.  Before the trial, Crawford made a motion to suppress the affidavit, arguing that the document was testimonial hearsay.  However, the trial court admitted the affidavit, holding that under the doctrine of “forfeiture by wrongdoing,” Crawford forfeited his right to confrontation with respect to statements by Sarah.  The trial court agreed and a redacted version of the affidavit was admitted.  A jury convicted Crawford of capital murder, abduction with intent to defile, rape, grand larceny, use of a firearm in the commission of a murder, and use of a firearm in the commission of abduction.  Crawford appealed, arguing, inter alia, that admission of the affidavit violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The appellate court reversed every conviction except for the grand larceny conviction on grounds that Crawford’s Sixth Amendment rights were violated by the admission of the affidavit. The Virginia Supreme Court held that the admission of the affidavit of a victim in support of her application for a preliminary protective order against defendant was testimonial and therefore violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation. It also held the trial court could not admit the affidavit under the “forfeiture by wrongdoing” doctrine because there was no evidence that the defendant killed the victim to prevent the victim from testifying. However, it found that the admission of the affidavit was harmless since the other evidence against Crawford was overwhelming.

State v. Harden Supreme Court of West Virginia (2009)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Defendant shot and killed husband after a night of “domestic terror.”  Defendant claimed she acted in self-defense; however, the state argued that she unreasonably used deadly force and that she could have retreated from the danger.  The court held that the defendant was entitled to a self-defense jury instruction and that the evidence supported her claim of self-defense.  To claim self defense, the court explained, the defendant’s belief that she was at “imminent risk of bodily injury or death” must be “subjectively reasonable,” i.e., the defendant believed that his or her actions were necessary to “prevent death or serious bodily injury.”  In addition, defendant’s belief must be “objectively reasonable,” i.e., another similarly situated person could have “reasonably formed the same belief.”  The court held that even if the defendant could not claim self-defense, evidence of abuse can be used to negate elements of the charged offense.  The court also held that there is no duty to retreat (leave the home) if attacked by a co-occupant of a home.  After evaluating the extensive evidence the defendant presented of the abuse that occurred prior to the killing of her husband, the court concluded that she did have a reasonable basis to believe that she was at risk of death or serious bodily injury and that the danger was imminent. 

U.S. v. Dowd United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (2005)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

A jury convicted Matthew Dowd of violating the federal interstate domestic violence law. The events giving rise to the conviction occurred over an 8-month period between May and December 2002. During that time, Dowd forced his former girlfriend, Danna Johnson, to travel throughout Montana, Colorado, and Utah with him while he was fleeing authorities. During the forced excursion, Dowd repeatedly subjected Ms. Johnson to physical and psychological abuse, including rape, choking, and death threats. Dowd contested the conviction, arguing that the jury did not have sufficient evidence that he forced or coerced Ms. Johnson to cross state lines, as the statute required. The court reasoned that to convict a defendant of violating the federal interstate domestic violence statute by causing a spouse or intimate partner to travel in interstate or foreign commerce by force, coercion, duress, or fraud, the government must show that the spouse or intimate partner was a non-consenting participant in the interstate travel. Despite evidence that there were various occasions during the several-months-long interstate journey where Ms. Johnson was outside of Dowd’s presence and did not seek assistance from others or attempt to escape, the court found that Ms. Johnson was not a willing participant in the extended journey, and that sufficient evidence supported a finding that Dowd violated the federal statute. That evidence included Dowd’s persistent actual and threatened physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, and threats of retribution against Ms. Johnson’s family if she left him. Accordingly, Dowd’s conviction was upheld.

People v. Whitfield Court of Appeals Fourth District (1986)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The defendant plead guilty to violating an order of protection and sentenced to conditional discharge for a period of 12 months. Within that year, the State tried to revoke the conditional discharge alleging that the defendant had again harassed his ex-wife. The circuit court of the county revoked the discharged and sentenced the defendant to twelve months’ probation with the condition of two days’ imprisonment and sixty hours of community service. The defendant appealed the change in sentence in the Court of Appeals arguing that following his ex-wife in an automobile did not constitute harassment and that the Illinois Domestic Violence Act violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court of Appeals rejected the constitutional argument because it cannot be made on appeal if it was not originally made at trial court, and also ruled that the act constituted harassment after examining the definition within the context of the law. Thus, the Court upheld the order of the circuit court.

Agripina Guzmán Paredes de Soliz c/ Alberto Soliz Carrillo Sala Civil (2006)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Plaintiff appealed a lower court's ruling that there was insufficient evidence to convict her husband of psychologically and physically abusing her, in violation of Art. 130-4 of the Family Code ("Codigo de Familia"). The Court reversed the lower court's finding, holding that the lower court failed to give adequate weight to evidence that proved defendant had violated Art. 130-4 by physically and psychologically abusing his wife. The Court chided the lower court for placing the plaintiff in danger and for failing to carry out its duty to prevent violence against women.