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Seeking justice for domestic violence victims

Pensacola courthouse

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in the third and final part of our series on "DV," we look at the legal side of the issue, and the challenges of prosecuting such cases.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 10 million people per year in the United States are physically abused by an intimate partner. That’s about 20 people per minute — one in three women and one in four men have experienced such abuse.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports that domestic violence arrests in 2020 totaled 3,663 in the four counties of the 1st Judicial Circuit of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.

“Every one is similar in some ways and they all have their differences as well; as far as the prosecution of them is, they are consistently difficult, primarily for two reasons,” said Greg Marcille, a 35-year veteran of the state attorney’s office in the 1st Circuit. Before retiring this year, he was the chief assistant for three state attorneys. Those two reasons:

“One, there is a great reluctance in victims to cooperate with the prosecution — for many reasons; and two, these are crimes that occur most often only between the victim and the defendant,” said Marcille. “And there are no other witnesses, which make it very difficult to prove.”

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Greg Marcille (L), former state attorney Bill Eddins (R)

Other aspects of D-V cases cover all segments of society without favor; and no socioeconomic distinctions across the board. As for why some alleged victims fail to cooperate, Marcille says many reasons can come into play.

“Oftentimes there is either a psychological or financial or other dependence by the victim with the perpetrator; not wanting to get the significant other to get into trouble with the law,” Marcille said. “There’s the aspect of not wanting it to be in a public setting.”

Marcille says that the number and frequency of domestic-violence cases during his tenure as a prosecutor, are roughly the same today — adding that now, there are more avenues when it comes to serving victims that didn’t exist until recently. There’s also improvement in the DV fatality rate.

“A number of years ago we had a very high number of homicides involving domestic violence; in fact, they were the majority of all homicides in Escambia County in some years,” he said. “As a percentage of overall homicides, the percentage that are in domestic-violence situations have reduced.”

Those convicted of domestic violence face a number of punishments, depending on the severity. Misdemeanors carry up to a year in jail; felony convictions carry more than a year in jail, and both also include forfeitures, fines, and being placed under an order of protection, among others.

Marcille says the new state attorney, Ginger Bowden Madden, and local law enforcement are more than capable when it comes to handling DV cases.

“Ms. Madden was involved in our county court office in Okaloosa County for many years, which is where the majority of the domestic violence cases [were], “Marcille said. “So she has a great amount of experience. Chip Simmons, being chief of police [Pensacola] and [Escambia County] sheriff — they both make dealing with domestic violence very important.”

Elsewhere, DV victims in Florida and nationwide are getting help from both the state and federal governments.

“It takes an incredible amount of courage to step out of an abusive environment and seek help; many victims of domestic violence risk financial instability — and the loss of income and housing — by leaving abusive situations,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.

“Recently, my office secured a settlement agreement that would restore millions of dollars to domestic-violence shelters across the state of Florida,” she said.

The $5 million was collected is from money misappropriated by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and its former CEO Tiffany Carr.

“In one year, Tiffany Carr received 360 days of paid time off; I’ll just remind everyone that’s 365 days in a year,” said Moody. “And in one year it was 465 days of paid time off.”

The settlement clears up the civil portion of the case, but Moody says criminal charges are still possible. She adds that a new system is being developed to serve domestic-violence victims.

And President Biden in July signed into law H.R. 1652 — the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021.

“This bill is going to allow us to make sure that all the fines that are from federal cases go into the Crime Victims Fund to rebuild this fund,” said the president. “Because it’s badly needed.”

That, says Biden, will provide more help and support to victims of domestic violence, along with those affected by sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking and other such crimes.

“In order to provide more access and safety and services for victims of gender-based violence is long past time; to reauthorize and strengthen protections through the Violence Against Women Act — without further delay,” Biden said.

Once again, if you are the victim of domestic violence, or you know somebody who is, call your nearest local law enforcement agency or the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If it’s an emergency, call 911.