2017-10-15 / Insight

Legal system seeks to break domestic violence cycle

810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

Imlay City Police Chief Scott Pike said there’s much more to dealing with the cycle of domestic violence than the few minutes police are involved. 
Photo by Phil Foley Imlay City Police Chief Scott Pike said there’s much more to dealing with the cycle of domestic violence than the few minutes police are involved. Photo by Phil Foley LAPEER — When it comes to domestic violence in Lapeer County, law enforcement and court officials are serious about addressing the problem.

The reason?

Sometimes they serve as the only line of defense “survivors” — a name preferred over “victims” — of domestic violence.

“Unfortunately, prosecutors are sometimes the only protection these vulnerable victims have; therefore, we must do what we can to protect not just the victim, but the children as well,” said Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Sharkey.

Lapeer County District Court Judge Laura Cheger Barnard said she considers “domestic violence to be incredibly serious.”

“Because people die from it,” she said. “If you have somebody who is a career abuser they know how to manipulate people’s emotions and they can have very devastating effects on families, on children that are watching this happen… there’s a lot that can go on.”

So how does the legal system in Lapeer County deal with domestic violence?

The short answer is that there is no one answer.

Rather, officials say, a basic structure has been implemented over the years — one that is designed to address all levels of cases that allegedly involve domestic violence.

Today, it starts with Sharkey’s office evaluating the police report from each individual case to determine and recommend either a deferral or plea deal.

According to Sharkey, “MCL 769.4a is a State of Michigan statutory deferral program for domestic violence offenders. The statute provides that if a first time domestic violence offender pleads guilty in the 71-A District Court and successfully completes the 26 week Domestic Violence Batterers’ Intervention Group, and does not violate the Court’s “no contact” Order — that is in place to protect the victim, after one (1) year, the case is dismissed. The Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, however, retains a non-public record of an arrest that can be used by law enforcement as the basis for a second offense, if the defendant re-offends.”

If a plea deal is offered, the victim has 10 days to decide if she/ he wants to have some input into the sentencing.

Barnard said victims respond verbally, or in writing — or they don’t respond at all.

“Then I have to try to figure out if this is somebody who’s afraid to respond or it wasn’t that big of a deal and they’re just looking for a simple fines and costs situation,” she said. “The more information I have the better equipped I am to figure out what’s going on with whomever is in front of me.”

Sharkey said, “The Lapeer County Prosecutor’s Office always looks at each domestic violence case on an individual basis.”

The overall goal, he said, is to break the domestic violence cycle.

“With the help of intervention programs like the 26-week Domestic Violence Batterers’ Intervention Group that we use in the 71-A District Court (in Lapeer), in combination with an appropriate sentence by the Court — that may include incarceration, we believe we can help break the cycle of violence so our children don’t grow up to be become domestic violence offenders, or victims all over again,” Sharkey said.

Lapeer County Circuit Judge Byron Konschuh — a longtime prosecuting attorney in Lapeer County — said he has seen the benefits of those who participate in the 26-week program.

“With those, we’ve found them to be wildly successful,” he said. “Because you’ve got a guy — and I say ‘guy’ because 95 percent of domestics are committed by guys — in a group who initially doesn’t want to admit responsibility or any wrongdoing and the other guys in the group are figuratively beating up on him saying ‘Come on dude, you’ve got to admit.’”

“Once you admit you have a problem it’s like the 12 steps of alcoholism — once you admit you have a problem you can start working on it,” Konschuh said, adding that in this context, “working on it” means preparing an individual to better deal with whatever may have led up to the situation involving domestic violence.

The framework for how Lapeer County’s legal system deals with domestic violence today traces back about three decades.

Konschuh said that around 1990 the area saw three murder-suicides with ties to domestic violence. Lapeer officials “began taking a hard line locally.”

A domestic violence coalition was formed, he said, that included police officers and representatives of community mental health, among others.

“We started changing our arrest policies on domestic violence cases, and developing a stricter domestic violence policy with respect to mandatory arrests, and requesting that the courts impose mandatory no-contact bonds when there was an arrest,” he said. “So things developed from there. I think we’ve got a lot better handle on domestic situations.”

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