Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another Defendant Off the Hook

Once again, Judge Tim Shea let a defendant off the hook for domestic violence - not even letting the jury determine whether or not he was guilty.

Yesterday was Michael Dwayne Manning's day in court. He was charged with Aggravated Battery on a Pregnant Person for assaulting the mother of his unborn child. The victim had signed a declination of prosecution a few days after he was released from jail.

Assistant State's Attorney Eric Trabin, using a 911 tape, photos of injuries sustained, and testimony from law enforcement, demonstrated that the victim's injuries were the result of an assault by Mr. Manning on the date in question. 

The victim, however, testified that her injuries were 3-4 days old and were the result of an altercation with someone else. The victim claimed that she jumped on Mr. Manning first in an effort to prevent him from taking car keys out of her purse and leaving. She took 100% of the blame for his actions.

Testimony elicited by the State showed that, at the time of the assault, the crying victim told the 911 operator that Mr. Manning had jumped on her. The police officer testified that the victim related that Mr. Manning had choked her. The officer also testified that the victim's injuries appeared as though they had been recently inflicted - and were not several days old. The State also demonstrated that the victim is financially dependent upon Mr. Manning. Additionally, her baby is due to be delivered very soon. Mr. Trabin went to great lengths to demonstrate that the victim had made prior inconsistent statements and told the jury that they should take that into consideration when weighing her credibility.

The jury should have been allowed to deliberate on the evidence that had been presented. But they were not. After the State rested, Judge Shea granted the defense motion for Judgment of Aquittal (JOA) on the basis that the State was relying on the victim's prior inconsistent statements. From what CourtWatch saw, however, the State relied upon the victim's excited utterances (a 911 recording in addition to her statements to law enforcement) and demonstrated that the injuries were recent (using photos together with the observations of the police officer).

Judge Shea's decision to toss the case sends the message to Mr. Manning that the system is either unable or unwilling to hold him accountable for his actions in this incident. He has empowered an abuser to thumb his nose at the laws and the judicial system that is supposed to uphold them. Assistant State Attorney Trabin attempted to enforce the law in spite of the fact that the victim had declined to prosecute.

CourtWatch commends Mr. Trabin's efforts in this matter and appreciates the fact that he did what he could to hold Mr. Manning accountable to the law, in spite of the victim's lack of support.

Finally, in spite of feeling frustrated with the victim for not aiding in the prosecution of her batterer, I understand the reasons for her refusal to testify against him. Rather than criticize the victim, I think we need to criticize the System - in this case, Judge Shea - for not upholding the Law. This is the second case that CourtWatch has seen this judge toss a case when the victim refused to testify against her abuser (the first was a case that involved the discharge of a gun in the home).

PS: Mr. Manning, age 34, in spite of being acquitted of this offense, is still in custody for a drug case. In fact, a review of the Orange County Clerk's site shows numerous felony and misdemeanor charges dating back to 1992 (age 17). Most charges (20 total) are drug related or involve resisting arrest, although he has a couple of battery and weapons cases.

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