In domestic violence cases, protection orders are often useless

Pardon me for using an out of date colloquialism; but it seems to fit.

Well duh!

Seattle Times Article

Having worked on a number of domestic violence cases over the years and being an avid reader of crime related news, it is quite obvious that the whole behavioral and crime category of domestic violence is very complex. As a practical matter, it seems to be beyond the ability of law enforcement and the courts to effectively deal with the problem or, more correctly, the complex of problems associated with the issue. Two things stand out to me as particularly problematic.

First: A protection or no-contact order is a very tenuous form of protection against future violence by a perpetrator against the same victim. My experience as a private investigator is that the orders are frequently violated by both parties, in collusion. From all the cases we’ve read or heard about over the years, it is sadly obvious that a violent person, intent on injuring or killing his or her victim, is not deterred by fear of legal consequences based on a bit of dead tree with some words printed on it.

Second: Victims of domestic violence are not easy to categorize. Some are mentally healthy, normal people who make the mistake of hooking up with people who later turn out to be violent. In spite of all their efforts to deal with the problem, these people sometimes fall prey to more harassment and violence from the same person. Some domestic violence victims have complex, personal psychological issues that result in their choosing to have co-dependent relationships with violent people. Too often they either return to the same relationship or find another person with whom to form another co-dependent relationship.

There is an old adage that goes something like this. If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something/anything else. The behavioral issues, including their roots, get a lot of attention from the mental health community. Both perpetrators and their victims need better access to counseling. The legal community needs to start from scratch in reforming its response to the crime of domestic violence. What they’re doing isn’t working.

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Eyewitnesses can’t be trusted?

Here is an innocent man who spent 30 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Seattle Times article. Because of cases like this, this Seattle criminal defense investigator is against the death penalty. Because of cases like this, this investigator is strongly motivated in my criminal defense and personal injury cases to get the best information from witnesses that I can and to expose unreliable witnesses when I find them.

Eyewitness identification is unreliable. We’ve known that for a very long time. An eyewitness can be honest, but wrong. An eyewitness can be confused by a variety of factors. An eyewitness can lie for a variety of reasons. An eyewitness can be manipulated by careless or unscrupulous law enforcement officers. In the absence of substantial collaborating evidence, why do we continue to accept eyewitness testimony as sufficient to convict anybody of anything?

What is a Private Investigator?

What is a PI?

A PI is a private investigator, meaning a civilian (not law enforcement) investigator in private practice. In states that require that PIs be licensed, non-licensed persons offering Private Investigator services are operating illegally and should not be trusted. Please check credentials, including licensing, and report to the authorities any fraudulent operators you encounter. There are some persons, not licensed as PIs who conduct investigations legally. In the State of Washington, the  law defines eleven types of investigators who are exempt from Private Investigator licensing. Check your own state laws to see if Private Investigators are required to be licensed and if there are similar exemptions to licensing requirements. Some investigators who don’t come under the Private Investigator licensing laws are required to have licenses under other provisions of the law.

What does a PI do?

A Private Investigator is a data researcher who collects a variety of types of data from a variety of sources in a variety of forms. A PI evaluates and cross checks data collected to validate its reliability. A PI develops leads to more data from that already collected and collects, validates and analyzes that new data. A PI documents all data found. A Private Investigator provides court testimony where litigation is involved, both criminal and civil.

In what areas of practice do PIs operate?

I am a Washington State licensed Private Investigator and Private Investigation Agency Owner, based in Seattle and functioning in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.

The member directory of the Washington Association of Legal Investigators lists 67 specialties or areas of practice. My specialties include:

Criminal Defense Investigations
Civil rights investigations
Personal injury investigations
Labor/management/employment investigations
Land use/environmental/natural resource issues

Private Investigator clients include attorneys, other PIs, corporate entities. government and private citizens.

Justice System Saved?

They didn’t have a case and they wasted my taxes, but the system ultimately worked.

My first and only experience on a jury was an eye-opener and, in fact, very disturbing. I had been called to jury duty a couple of times before but had never ended up serving. I was actually looking forward to the experience. I got more and less than I expected on the third call to duty when I survived the selection process and was actually chosen for the jury.

The defendant was charged with trading crack for cash. The SPD had been conducting a sting at the busy drug market on the SE corner of 2nd and Yesler in Seattle. SPD officers were everywhere in plainclothes and in uniform, in marked and unmarked cars and on bikes, on the street and on rooftops.

This should have been an easy bust but wasn’t as the seller spooked after taking the plainclothes  officer’s money and handing over the crack in a baggy. The seller made the trade while sitting in his idling car at the curb with the buyer standing on the sidewalk. Something about the situation caused the seller to panic and run.

He took off southbound on second and turned left to go east on Washington. He blew the 4-way stop at 3rd and the stop sign at 4th, a very busy, three lane northbound road. He headed uphill to 6th and turned north towards Yesler. He almost ran over two bicycle cops and evaded hot pursuit by an officer in a marked squad car when the officer stopped the pursuit for safety reasons.

The seller got away and was not arrested ‘til months later. He was arrested for the sell during the sting described above; the arrest was based on identification of the seller by the buying officer. The prosecutor decided there was enough evidence to support prosecution. This led to the trial where I got some education about how the system sometimes works.

The prosecution’s case consisted of: Officer X says the defendant was the person who sold him the crack. The prosecution had no other witnesses, no tie in to the seller’s vehicle, no marked money, nothing but the officer’s assertion.

The prosecution managed to mention that the defendant had a record. The judge rightly ordered this struck from the record and told the jury to ignore the information.

The defense denied the accusation and said the officer was mistaken. It came down to one man’s testimony versus the other’s. Prosecution and defense had made their cases; it was time for the jury to decide.

I was a bit perplexed. My reaction to the trial up to this point was that the defendant was likely guilty, but the prosecution hadn’t proved it. Furthermore, it seemed to me that the prosecution must have counted on the jury to be ignorant and prejudiced. I was wondering why the prosecutor had wasted our taxes for such a weak case.

The defense attorney had failed to point out the weakness of the prosecution’s case.

The judge’s instructions to us were to decide if the defendant was guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt. If a reasonable doubt existed, we were to find the defendant not guilty.

We began deliberating and immediately deadlocked; six said guilty and six said not guilty. Guilty versus not guilty really boiled down to six saying the prosecution had proven the defendant’s guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt, and six saying there was reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt and, therefore, we should find the defendant not guilty.

Notice that I said that six said he was guilty and six said there was insufficient evidence to affirm guilt. Actual guilt could never be known by anyone but god and the defendant. The faction that said he was guilty actually said that the defendant must be guilty because the police officer said he was.

On top of my observations about the prosecution and the defense now I had to reconcile the idea that a jury of twelve is not such a reliable group to make decisions having such consequences for a defendant’s life.

The bad thing was that six of twelve were so ignorant of the concepts of  “innocent until proven guilty” and “reasonable doubt” and so willing to bow down to the power of the government in the form of law enforcement. The good thing was that the other six of us were able to block a railroad job by the same forces.

A system in which the police, as agents of the government, have the power to act as law enforcement, judge, jury and executioner is commonly known as a fascist state. I still have concerns about the experience I had in that court. That experience still resonates in my experience as a private, legal investigator. It is one reason that I have such a burn about the work.

It takes diligence on the part of each player in this process to make it work properly. It is critical for the health of our system of laws that all citizens have an appreciation for how the law is supposed to work.

After all, whose interests are at stake in the court rooms of this country? If you don’t understand that it is the interests of us all that are at stake, we are in a whole lot of trouble.

You reactions? Your experiences?