Constitutional Law

Domestic violence victim put on stand in pajamas, then jailed overnight for refusing to testify

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A 52-year-old woman who had not responded to a witness subpoena in a domestic violence case was picked up at the order of a Maine trial judge and put on the stand last week in fleece pajamas, the clothing she was wearing when police took her into custody.

When Sheila Kimball then refused to testify, she was held in contempt in the Kennebec County Superior Court case and jailed overnight, the Kennebec Journal reports.

Her husband, Richard J. Kimball, 53, was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to nine months in jail, with all but the 44 days he has already served suspended.

“We are considering possibly appealing,” his attorney, Darrick Banda, told the newspaper, pointing to the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses. “The only substantive evidence of a crime came from two sources—a 911 tape, which was admitted, and a hearsay statement to a first-responder paramedic.”

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney recognizes that the decision to put Sheila Kimball on the stand may be controversial and says she is eager to discuss with domestic violence advocates whether there is a better way to handle such situations. She said her office took no position on whether the victim should be held in contempt and will not prosecute her for failing to honor the witness subpoena.

“I am insisting that victims come to trial, but not prosecuting them for not coming,” the DA said of Sheila Kimball and other domestic violence victims. “The reason is the prosecution is not just for her but for the community. With domestic violence, she’s not likely to be his one and only victim. I cannot leave it in her hands whether or not we prosecute.”

An earlier domestic violence case prosecuted by Maloney’s office ignited controversy when a victim was briefly jailed as a material witness and released on $5,000 bail prior to the defendant’s trial, even though her lawyer said the woman intended to testify.

In that case, Jessica Ruiz did later testify at the November bench trial of Robert A. Robinson Jr. He was convicted in January, the Kennebec Journal reported at the time. It appears that Robinson’s sentence did not make the news.

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