In Idaho, Law Can’t Hit Back Dropped Charges Plague Abuse Cases
A yelp of glee escaped Cindy Simpson as a judge ordered her ex-boyfriend held in jail on $2,000 bail.
Clad in an orange jail jumpsuit, Darrell Heller had just been charged with beating his former lover.
“I don’t want to go through this again and again and again,” Simpson, 36, said later as she waited for another judge to give her a protection order against Heller. “No matter how charming he gets, nothing could convince me to go back to him. I’m done.”
On Jan 29, Simpson said, she braved Heller’s flying fists and feet. She spent much of the next week braving the Kootenai County court system.
If Heller is convicted, he will be one of the few.
Prosecutors in Kootenai County say that in 60 percent to 80 percent of their domestic violence cases, the victim ends up begging - even demanding - that charges be dropped.
“They are the most frustrating cases I have to deal with,” said Nancy Stricklin, assistant attorney in the Coeur d’Alene city prosecutor’s office. “You’re out there trying to do something to help them and they’re angry at you.”
Stricklin now requires victims to attend a domestic violence workshop before she even will consider dropping charges.
“All too often, I don’t think the victims know what their options are; they don’t know the cycle they are in,” Stricklin said.
Even without a victim’s cooperation, Stricklin said, her office often will try to go ahead with the more serious cases. But they’re hard to win.
“I’ve had victims get on the stand and tell a completely different story from what they told the police,” she said.
Idaho does not keep statistics on how domestic violence cases are handled in the courts. But Susan Weeks, former Kootenai County deputy prosecutor, tracked 125 of her domestic violence cases from March 1993 to March 1994.
Seventy-five cases were dropped because victims wouldn’t pursue charges. Of the remaining 50 cases, 23 were dismissed through a process called deferred prosecution or prosecutor probation, in which the batterer agrees to obtain counseling.
Only 11 of Weeks’ suspects - 9 percent - were convicted.
Simpson recalled how kindhearted and good-humored her boyfriend used to be.
“He’s gotten more violent and stayed angrier longer,” she said. “He needs help. There’s no doubt about that.”
It’s unlikely, however, that Heller or any other accused batterer will find meaningful treatment in North Idaho, prosecutors said.
There is no long-term batterer treatment program. Two of the available anger-management classes last only one day.
The Kootenai County Domestic Violence Task Force is trying to work out a program to send North Idaho’s batterers to the Spokane YWCA’s Alternatives to Domestic Violence program.
Despite the odds, Simpson insists she will go all the way with her case.
“I’m at the point I’ll do anything to keep him away from me,” she said. “All I want in my life is a little peace.”