Criminal Justice

DA's zero tolerance policy for domestic violence puts brutalized witness in jail

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Allegedly beaten with a broomstick and a belt in April and taken to the woods to dig what she was told would be her own grave, Jessica Ruiz survived the experience and cooperated with the Maine prosecutors, appearing at the Kennebec County district attorney’s office for multiple appointments.

But after she missed one Sept. 16, and sheriff’s officers unsuccessfully attempted to serve her with two subpoenas, prosecutors got a warrant for her arrest at an ex parte hearing. The 35-year-old was taken into custody at her home Tuesday and held for 17 hours as a material witness against defendant Robert A. Robinson, 45, until a judge released her on Wednesday on $5,000 unsecured bail, the Kennebec Journal reports.

Prosecutors had sought $5,000 cash bail in order to ensure that Ruiz appeared at Robinson’s scheduled trial Friday. It has since been postponed until October, apparently for reasons unrelated to the claimed issue of Ruiz’ cooperation with the prosecution.

DA Maeghan Maloney said the highly unusual arrest of Ruiz was pursued only after consultation with the Family Violence Project, a local agency that assists domestic violence victims. Under a new policy, her office is aggressively prosecuting cases with the highest potential for a lethal result, she said.

“If we don’t prosecute him and the case is dismissed, there’s a danger of her being killed,” the DA said of Robinson and Ruiz. “If she doesn’t testify, then he’ll be out of jail.”

However, others, including the attorney who represented Ruiz after she was arrested, the defense attorney for Robinson and an American Civil Liberties Union representative questioned whether it was necessary to take Ruiz into custody.

Robinson, who is on probation in another criminal case, already was incarcerated on unrelated charges and would not have been released regardless of whether Ruiz testified, his defense attorney, William Baghdoyan, told the newspaper.

Her lawyer, Lisa Whittier, called the arrest “outrageous,” and said Ruiz, who has no criminal record, always intended to cooperate in his prosecution and was unaware the state was trying to subpoena her.

But Deborah Shepherd, who serves as executive director of the Family Violence Project, had a somewhat different perspective.

“Sometimes, sadly, this may be the most appropriate choice,” she said in a written statement provided to the newspaper. “Abusers need to be held accountable, and part of that accountability is effective prosecution.”

See also: “Prosecutors Detain Alleged Rape Victim to Ensure Her Presence In Court”

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