CourtWatch monitored the plea & sentencing yesterday of Steven Joseph Piantieri, who was charged with Felony Battery (3rd Degree) which has a maximum possible penalty of 5 years in prison. The defendant pled to a lesser charge of simple battery and received 1 year probation, was ordered to have no contact with the victim, have mental health counseling and attend an anger management class (more about that later).
Our volunteer in the courtroom was impressed with the extreme care that Judge McDonald showed the victim and with the fact that he refused to withhold adjudication after she requested his record not be able to be sealed or expunged (despite his attorney's argument that a conviction could hurt his client from renewing his business license). He also, after learning that the victim had not requested restitution for medical bills and counseling, encouraged her to request compensation to cover these costs.
With respect to anger management class, CourtWatch believes that the plea offer should have insisted upon Batterer's Intervention Program (a 26-week class that counsels batterers about power & control issues) instead of the 8-hour anger management class. Florida Statute requires BIP in these types of cases. This was the responsibility of Assistant State Attorney Murphy to enforce. The judge should have asked why the agreement didn't specify BIP instead of anger management. Florida Statute also requires 5 days in jail when someone is adjudicated guilty of a crime of domestic violence. This is also the responsibility of the Assistant State Attorney to treat as non-negotiable. (see Florida Statute 741.281 and 741.283)
All in all, however, our volunteer was pleased with Judge McDonald's demeanor toward the victim. And we hope to see the State Attorney's Office be more vigorous in holding perpetrators of domestic violence accountable for their actions when negotiating plea agreements.