For four years, my sole responsibility was to prosecute domestic violence cases. I’ve met countless endangered women and children. I have seen the cycle of violence played out time and time again. I’ve watched offenders exercise power and control over their victims, and I have seen firsthand the trauma that is caused as a result of domestic violence. I have also witnessed the hope that is found when that cycle is broken.
SQ 805 will give no hope to victims of domestic violence. Currently, if an offender commits a felony act of domestic violence and has other prior felonies that are not domestic related, their sentence may still be enhanced to higher ranges of punishment. Proponents of SQ 805 want you to believe that domestic offenses will not apply to SQ 805 because some of these crimes are now categorized as violent. This simply is not true. SQ 805 defines “violent felony” as felony offenses that were specified as violent on January 1, 2020. No domestic violence offenses were categorized as violent at that time.
If SQ 805 passes, it will not matter how many times a domestic violence offender hits, beats, punches, strangles, or stabs someone they are in an intimate partner relationship with, they will serve the same amount of time in DOC as if it were their first offense. It will not matter whether it was their first felony conviction or their twentieth felony conviction.
How does this impact victims? It gives serial abusers a pass to continue their abusive behavior by not holding them accountable for their repetitive and often increasingly violent behavior and it re-victimizes the victim. Domestic violence is a disease that seeps into every aspect of a victim’s life. What I have found helpful is to try and place myself in the shoes of a victim to understand how the criminal justice system must feel to them.
When an instance of domestic violence occurs and law enforcement responds, the victim has to relive the events multiple times by telling an officer, paramedic, firefighter, detective, victim witness coordinator, prosecutor, counselor, Judge or Jury what happened. Victims must recount one of the worst things to ever happen to them to complete strangers, again and again. Victims may have to uproot their entire lives to be safe, to keep their children safe. Once the case has been resolved, I tell victims they are done with the criminal justice process and now is the time to focus on healing.
However, if SQ 805 passes, that would be a lie. Victims would have to return to court at a modification hearing mandated by SQ 805 to reduce their offender’s sentence. SQ 805 seeks to limit the penalty for repeat offenders of domestic violence even though research indicates that physical violence, psychological abuse and economic abuse are repetitive patterns and that domestic violence is the single major precursor to child fatalities in the United States. Victims deserve better than SQ 805.
Jacobi Whatley is an Assistant District Attorney in Cleveland County and former Assistant District Attorney in Blaine, Canadian, and Kingfisher Counties.