Because of their specialized training, the prosecutors and judge in this division routinely include BIP (the 26 week Batterer's Intervention Program) in their plea agreements and sentencings. I spent a lot of time in Judge Brewer's courtroom in the early months of my courtwatching career and learned a great deal from him.
Once I began to monitor the felony courts more often, I was astonished to see the prosecutors and judges rarely, if ever, order BIP for domestic violence offenders - either in their plea agreements or when they'd been adjudicated by a jury. I can only assume that because their divisions handle a wide variety of offenses, that they didn't know that the Statute says:
- if a defendant pleads guilty or no contest to a crime of domestic violence, even if adjudication is withheld, Florida Statute requires they be receive 1 year's probation and be ordered into BIP - if the Court finds BIP is not appropriate (which would be the case in non-intimate partner violence), it must state on the record why it is not
- if a defendant is adjudicated guilty of a crime of domestic violence and they've intentionally caused bodily harm to the victim, they must be sentenced to a minimum of 5 days in jail
Last fall we presented our concerns to Chief Judge Belvin Perry about our findings that sentencings in felony divisions were not in accordance with statutory requirements. After researching the Statute, he agreed and issued a memorandum to the judges to make them aware of what the law requires. This memorandum was sent by CourtWatch to Lawson Lamar, the State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit (Orange/Osceola) in February.
In State v. Steven Piantieri 2008CF16896 (about which we previously blogged), the defendant was charged with felony battery and pled to misdemeanor battery on 3/31/09. He was ordered to complete 1 year of probation; have no contact with the victim (yet he was ordered to write her an apology letter!); 1 day jail with credit for time served (where is our 5-day jail term?); complete 35 hours of community service; continue with anger management counseling on a weekly basis with his existing counselor and provide proof to his attorney.
Orange County Probation's specialized DV unit asked for a hearing this week to clarify the sentence because there is no such program as Domestic Violence Anger Management. You can order either Anger Management or BIP (which is geared toward counseling batterers about issues of power and control - not anger). The victim definately wanted BIP ordered. The judge was inclined to agree. HOWEVER, the Assistant State Attorney handling the case, Diane Murphy, said that anger management was acceptable. BIP was not ordered for Mr. Piantieri.
For CourtWatch, and for the victim, this is unacceptable! We need the State Attorney and his Assistants to do their best to enforce the law. That is what we as citizens should expect from our prosecutors.