Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Judge Apte "gets" domestic violence
Judge Apte routinely asks probing questions, makes thorough explanations to the participants in his courtroom, shows compassion to victims, treats everyone professionally and with respect, and exhibits a good understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.
The defense requested a modification of victim contact in order to enable the defendant to visit with his 2-yr old child. Judge Apte asked if the defendant and the child's mother (the victim in this case) were married. They are not. He took the time to explain to the defendant that unless paternity has been legally established, the defendant has no legal right for contact with the child. CourtWatch rarely sees judges in criminal cases inform the parties about what the law allows in these situations. The motion was withdrawn.
Ms. Shepherd then requested a reasonable bond be set, and argued that the defendant could only afford a $5,000 bond. He claimed to have a job selling magazines door-to-door and in a good week, makes $500. He also said he is unable to pay his child support obligations. Judge Apte asked what he reported his income to be on the Affadavit of Indigency he completed when he requested the services of the Public Defender. He admitted he wrote $0.
The State then presented testimony from the victim's mother and sister who were fearful for the safety of the victim. They testified to injuries and property damage they've seen in the past, as well as threats made by the defendant. The State also presented evidence that the defendant had violated his "No Contact" Order by making 267 phone calls to the victim's cell phone since his arrest on January 21, 2010.
The victim testified on behalf of the defendant and said she was not afraid of the defendant, admitted that law enforcement had been called on previous occasions and that he did hit her, and claimed that she and the defendant had never discussed her testimony. She had filed a declination of prosecution.
A 15-minute recording of one of the many jail calls was then played in court. In the call, the defendant blamed the victim for not getting him out of jail, told her to claim she hit him first, and demanded that she get get him out. He cursed and yelled at the victim during the call.
Judge Apte asked several probing questions about the defendant's history which included approximately 13 arrests (some of which were batteries on different victims).
Defense Counsel Christina Shepherd argued that the cost of GPS monitoring was burdensome and requested a $5,000 bond.
Assistant State Attorney Eric Trabin argued that there were no conditions of release that could protect the victim, and noted that the defendant's having violated the no contact order while in jail 267 times is indicative of the his likelihood of non-compliance with any conditions that the judge might impose. He requested no bond be granted.
When requesting pretrial detention of a defendant, the State has a two-pronged burden. They must demonstrate that proof is evident that the defendant committed the crime(s) for which they're charged and the presumption is great that the victim/community would not be safe if the defendant is released - no matter what restrictions might be placed upon them by the judge. Another factor the judge may consider is whether or not the defendant is a flight risk.
Judge Apte granted bond in the amount of $25,000, ordered GPS Monitoring and Home Confinement, and revoked his phone privileges at the jail. He explained that there was insufficient evidence presented at the hearing to cover the "proof evident" prong mentioned above.
Two days later, Mr. Lee was back in court on the State's Motion to Revoke Bond because he called the victim after having been admonished that "no contact" truly does mean "NO CONTACT." Judge Apte told the defendant he would be found in contempt of court and given 364 days in jail if he called her again. He also remarked that hopefully the jail would prohibit Mr. Lee from having access to a telephone since his phone privileges were revoked at the previous hearing.
Bond was revoked.
Kudos to the judge for holding this perpetrator accountable.
Kudos to the prosecutors and advocates at the State Attorney's Office who cared about protecting this victim, in spite of her initial efforts on behalf of the defendant. I'm told that she is now a "cooperative" witness for the prosecution.
Lee's trial is now scheduled for June 21, 2010.