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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Domestic Violence: Is There A Double Standard?

A famous golfer's early morning car crash and alleged argument with his wife has reignited conversation about domestic violence. We'll probably never know what happened in the Florida house that night and many will argue over whether the matter should remain private, but what it has initiated is the issue of domestic violence and whether there is a double standard.

A commentator on Larry King last night stated that if Tiger Woods had been alleged to assault  his wife and she was the driver in the car, the Florida Highway Patrol would have conducted a very different investigation. The same controversy exists in noteworthy cases of school teachers. Is there more public outrage when it is a male teacher and female student vs. a female teacher and male student? Reverse the gender roles in the Tiger Woods scenario- would your opinion change?

Many times as a prosecutor I was in charge of what they called 'in custody filings'- those who had been arrested within the last 24 hours were being held in custody. Starting at 7:30 a.m. every morning police departments would bring police reports to the office asking for criminal charges to be filed. I would review the reports and decide whether to proceed with the case. If I chose to reject the case, the person was released from custody. Mecklenburg County has a different filing system which I don't believe is as effective as this. However, that is a blog post for another time..

In this case, the police had arrested a female who was more than 9 months pregnant- she was literally ready to give birth at any moment and was being held downstairs in the jail. The previous night, the police had been called to a local park by a 911 call made by a male on a cell phone. The male was married to the pregnant woman and they had been alleged to have had marital problems. He had asked his wife to meet her at the park to talk. Husband proceeded to tell her that he had met someone else and was leaving her. She allegedly slapped him in the face a few times. Husband calls 911.

I chose not to file this case and directed the jail to release her immediately. This case ignited an early morning discussion among prosecutors in the office and the issue of reverse domestic violence- that is what female on male domestic violence is sometimes called. I chose not to file the case for several reasons. First, it was a 'one on one case with no corroboration' (he said/she said). I don't recall the police interviewing the woman and obtaining any incriminating statements, husband did not have any injuries and there were no other witnesses to the crime. At trial, the wife could very well testify that husband came after her first and she defended herself. A prosecutor's case should have a substantial likelihood of success of conviction at trial before they proceed with the case. This case did not meet that standard. Finally, a prosecutor must convince 12 members of the community to find this woman guilty of the crime of assault and battery on her husband. The general consensus in the office was that no jury would convict a pregnant woman of slapping her husband after being told he is leaving her and her child for another woman.

Now, change the facts and gender- wife recently has child and is not happy in her marriage. Wife tells husband she is leaving him for another man and he subsequently slaps her. Do you feel different about the case?


posted by Carilyn Ibsen at


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