State domestic abuse council raises concerns about jailing victims


WASHINGTON COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – The rare, but extreme practice of jailing domestic violence victims for disobeying subpoenas continues to prompt statewide conversations.

Tennessee Domestic Violence State Coordinating Council Vice Chair Deborah Yeomans-Barton says members raised concerns during a meeting Friday.

She says members of the council voiced shared their concerns that the courts were holding these people in contempt without ever giving them a chance to explain their absences.

“We discussed what was happening here in Washington County,” she said. “Just to arbitrarily say, ‘You’re not here, you’re going to jail, period,’ doesn’t seem to be the right thing.”

The managing attorney of Legal Aid of East Tennessee says often times, these victims have legitimate reasons for why they don’t show up to testify in court; namely out of fear for their safety.

“The judge should at least hear their reasons rather than just find them in contempt of court flat out,” she said. “Yeah, they are literally in contempt of court for not coming when a subpoena’s issued, but give them a chance to explain the reason why. It’s not black and white. There needs to be show cause hearings in these cases.”

First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark previously told us prosecutors were in talks with judges to see if there’s a way to issue summons to victims, instead of asking for their arrests. That would allow them to appear in court first, rather than go straight to jail. He says his office previously tried to pursue show cause hearings, but told us defense attorneys fought that.

Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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