Panel explores domestic violence issues

WINCHESTER – The complexities of laws governing protective orders and concealed carrying of guns were among the topics that a roomful of lawmakers, psychologists, law enforcement officials and victim advocates discussed Friday at a roundtable symposium on domestic violence.

One woman asked whether cases classified as deferred prosecutions require the defendant to surrender all his guns. A deferred prosecution requires a defendant to plead guilty but a criminal conviction and any potential sentence are withheld for a period of time, typically a year. If the defendant fulfills certain requirements under an agreement with the prosecution, the charge is dismissed a year later.

Nicole Spicer, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Winchester, said the law prohibits a defendant under a deferred prosecution program from possessing firearms, although he can still own them.

“While that is out there pending, they cannot have their guns,” Spicer said of domestic violence defendants bound by deferred prosecution requirements.

Another woman at the roundtable said she doubted the value of any requirement that an abuser relinquish his gun without more direct supervision from law enforcement officials to ensure the defendant has fully complied.

The symposium was organized by Del. Chris Collins, R-Winchester, and Golden Seal Enterprises, a firm specializing in personal protective services and training.

Collins, a defense attorney, recalled an incident from his days in law enforcement when he was called to a residence where a woman was hitting a man with a vacuum cleaner hose.

“It would be comical, it would be a real fun story, if they hadn’t had a 6-year-old son sitting Indian-style watching television,” Collins said. “Just another day.”

Collins said the incident illustrated how domestic violence becomes an event so routine in some homes that children hardly seem to notice anything wrong.

One woman asked Collins, what, if anything, can be done if a child is in a home where violence is a frequent occurrence, but the child has been spared from physical abuse.

Collins said it has been difficult for authorities to obtain an order transferring a child from custody of his parents if there is no indication that adults in the home are abusing anyone but each other.

“The Supreme Court has ruled time and again that parental rights are among the (most) sacred rights there are,” Collins said.

Collins added he is pleased that social service officials are having an easier time in recent years placing children in settings away from abusive parents, thanks to the development of an extensive list of people who are willing to welcome young victims into their homes.

“We didn’t have that when I was a deputy in the mid-90s,” Collins said. “It’s much better now.”

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, who is also a defense attorney, cited several bills of his pertaining to domestic violence that have been signed into law.

Gilbert said one of the new laws now allows for someone who violates a protective order, normally a misdemeanor, to be charged with a felony if the offense involves possession or use of a weapon.

“People who take that extra step need additional penalties,” Gilbert said.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, recalling her days as a law student in a prosecutor’s office, said she was dismayed at the number of women who did not want charges filed against their abusive husbands or boyfriends.

Comstock said she would like to see more people available to help victims of domestic abuse respond wisely while they are coping with the psychological trauma resulting from such incidents.

“When you’re in a crisis, you need someone to come in and kind of take charge,” Comstock said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com