There was a time when wife-beating was rarely spoken of, rarely reported and rarely punished, but spouses and domestic partners are entitled to protection from violence just as strangers are, Magistrate Valdis Foldats said in a recent sentencing hearing.
He spoke about the “horrific impact” of domestic violence on women in all walks of life when he handed down a judgment that resulted in a sentence of 23 months’ imprisonment for a man who pleaded guilty to two assaults, along with another offense that resulted in injury to his wife. The Compass is not naming the defendant, as that would identify the victim.
A man who assaults his wife or partner is breaching the trust between them, the magistrate pointed out, while the financial and emotional situation in which the woman finds herself may make it difficult for her to escape.
There is clear need for general deterrence and denunciation of domestic violence, he stated. Court sentences must attempt to protect other spouses, as well as the victim of the offense being dealt with, the magistrate said.
In the case before him, the magistrate referred to the impact the violence had on the couple’s children. The younger child reportedly told his mother, “Don’t shout, before daddy comes and hits you.” The older child did not call the defendant daddy anymore, just “that man.”
In the last incident that resulted in injury to the woman, a bone behind her eye was fractured, the eye was bloodshot and she could not see for some time. A victim impact report indicated that she was black and blue all over. She spent a week at the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre shelter and was off work for two weeks, during which time the children were cared for by her mother. “I get flashbacks when I hear of other women being beaten,” she said.
When the defendant was interviewed, he blamed the woman. “A wife should listen to her husband,” he said.
Defense attorney Amelia Fosuhene submitted that the court could impose a suspended sentence supervision order. She said this would enable the defendant to attend programs that address domestic violence. She pointed out that his incarceration would mean loss of income to pay a mortgage, and the family might lose their home.
Ms. Fosuhene asked the court to treat the man’s guilty pleas as expressions of his remorse. She cited the couple’s long-term relationship, although they had married relatively recently. There were a lot of outside influences on the marriage, but the husband wanted to make it work, if the wife were willing, the attorney said.
Crown counsel Kelly Garcia submitted that the assault sentences should be custodial and consecutive. Whether domestic abuse is physical, mental or emotional, “you do not repeatedly harm your partner,” he said, arguing that the total sentence should indicate to others the seriousness of the crime.
The magistrate revealed that he did consider a suspended sentence, but concluded that an immediate and lengthy sentence was necessary to mark publicly the gravity of the offense. He noted that, if the defendant beat his wife again, the court would have failed in its duty to protect her.
The wife’s first injury considered by the court was a broken leg, sustained in a single-vehicle traffic incident when her husband was driving. As a result of her injury, the wife now had a rod in her leg – a constant reminder of the incident, the magistrate said.
While on bail for that incident, the man assaulted her, causing actual bodily harm in an “almost casual use of violence to degrade her in front of relatives,” the magistrate said. One of the couple’s children also witnessed this incident. She sustained a swelling of the forehead and injuries around her eyes.
In his sentencing remarks, the magistrate noted that the defendant was chased and assaulted by the victim’s family, but that was not mitigation for him. The court could not condone any form of vigilante justice and the police must be relied on, but the relatives’ reaction reflected their outrage, he observed.
Continuing the sequence of events, he said that after some time in custody, the defendant was released on bail with a strict prohibition against contact with the wife. But four weeks later, they did see each other and he injured her again.
Ms. Fosuhene had pointed out that the victim initiated the contact, but that was no excuse, the magistrate said: “Contact was not an option for the defendant.”
He said the victim’s encouragement of contact was a sad and common theme in domestic violence cases. It illustrated the dynamics of a toxic and complex relationship, but was no mitigation. “Regardless of who initiated contact, the defendant violently abused his wife again,” the magistrate pointed out.
He agreed that the defendant did call 911 to get assistance for her, but he told the operator that she had fallen, thereby seeking to minimize his role. This assault was worse than the first, as it involved choking and pulling her by her hair, as well as the more serious eye injury, the magistrate indicated.
The defendant received two months for traffic offense, the Crown accepting a plea to charges of careless driving. The first assault attracted a term of five months, with the second assault meriting 16 months, for a total of 23 months.
Two charges of common assault were left on file, meaning that they will be dismissed if not reinstituted within six months. A charge of wrongful confinement was also left on file.
During a discussion of the assaults and their degree of seriousness, the magistrate said it was unfortunate that sentencing guidelines referred to whether an assault was of lesser or greater harm. This was legal jargon, he commented, and when the term “lesser harm” was used, it did not indicate that the assault was a trifling matter. He suggested that the term might be revisited and perhaps revised to ensure that the public and the victims have confidence that the courts treat domestic violence cases seriously, no matter the categorization of the harm caused.
He pointed out that in England and Wales guidelines, a domestic context makes an assault more serious.