There once was a time when feminist activists tried to make the courts respond to domestic violence the way they respond to violence between strangers. This was a very good impulse, both morally and rationally, and also in terms of making our justice system operate equitably (in the “equal,” not “social justice” sense of the term “equitable”).
You shouldn’t serve less time for stabbing someone just because she is your wife or was once your wife. Or your husband.
The law shouldn’t make exceptions for people based on their identities. Criminal acts should be the only factor determining punishment. Of course, there is manslaughter and there is murder; crimes of passion and random violence; there are many factors to be considered when two people live together and the relationship is a violent one. But the goal of making the criminal act, not the relationship, the deciding factor for the punishment is and always has been a good goal.
Those early domestic violence advocates were dealing with a judicial system that did, until surprisingly recently, make it exceedingly difficult to put violent offenders behind bars if the targets of their violence were their own family members. Things are better now. They aren’t perfect. They’re more equal. The overall path has been towards equality. And as I write this, I know I will hear from people who feel they were given a raw deal because they are men and the feminists have taken over the courts, so let me say this up front: I happen to advocate for radical equality, not special treatment of anyone, unless they are children, for obvious reasons. I’m also very suspicious of feminist legal ventures that attempt to excuse murders by women who claim they were suffering from battered woman syndrome and are therefore not responsible for their actions. If self defense is the defense, so be it. But there are plenty of women who belong in prison, or deserve to stay there, as much as any other murderer, despite the fact that their victim once battered them.
Having worked with the domestic violence movement, I know enough about the dynamics of the crime to know that men are not infrequently victims too. That’s actually more reason for us to pursue every domestic violence case objectively and with little consideration for the voluntary relationship involved, except insomuch as the technical elements of that relationship can be considered evidence of a crime.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between the legal reforms of the 1970′s that demanded equal treatment for blacks, or women, or gays, versus the special rights movements that subsumed these earlier efforts. For a brief window of time, equality was the ambition, and a lot of good came of that. Those healthy legal efforts led to new sex crime laws, for example, that punished the offender based on his behavior, not on the victim’s identity. They opened the door for prosecutions of men who raped men and the prosecution of female rapists — virtually all of whom target children. They enabled battered women to see their violent husbands serve time for beating them, and visa versa.
But then the emphasis shifted to special rights, special protections, affirmative action justice and identity-based law enforcement. The politicization of crime is spinning wildly out of control these days — illegal immigrants are given special leniency when they can’t produce a driver’s license in Los Angeles, for example; the hate crimes industry is a bottomless pit of prejudicial law enforcement; affirmative action poisons every aspect of employment law and equal rights; federal meddling casually threatens police with career-destroying racial charges for simply trying to do their jobs. The sheer notion of equality before the law is deemed risible by the “best” legal minds.
Equality isn’t the goal anymore.
We need to get back to that moment when it was the goal. Because in addition to being the right thing to do, equality worked a hell of a lot better than the alternative. Inequality of any type, I’ve come to believe, is the handmaiden of leniency. When any crime is politicized, the courts lose the moral authority they need to maintain every law.
I thought of this when I saw the following headline in the Atlanta Journal Constitution today:
Slain woman predicted her own death
Donna Kristofak was terrified and letting the court know it. John S. Kristofak, who was her husband for 19 years, had been arrested six months earlier as he chased her in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In his car were a butcher’s knife and what police called “a suicide note.”
During a court hearing Oct. 12, Mrs. Kristofak begged a Cobb County judge not to release him from jail. “I fear for my life,” she told Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs, telling the judge that a court-issued order of protection would not stop her crazed ex-spouse.
Early Thursday, fugitive squads arrested Kristofak, 58, after a short struggle at a Motel 6 in Union City, ending a publicized five-day manhunt. He was charged with doing exactly what he’d promised earlier this year: murder.
I have a lot of questions about this case. What the hell was this man doing out of prison for time served, seven months after trying to kidnap and plotting (with evidence) to murder his ex-wife last March? Why wasn’t he prosecuted for attempted kidnapping and given a real sentence? Why wasn’t he given a sentence enhancement for repeatedly violating the restraining order in place against him before the March incident? What happened to the mandatory minimum of 10 years without parole for kidnapping in Georgia? Was a protective order used in lieu of prosecuting him for kidnapping?
Why does anybody get time served and probation for attempting to kidnap, with the written intent to kill, anyone? Ex-wife or no ex-wife?
The judge in this case has more explaining to do, as does the prosecutor and the defense attorney and everyone else involved in what may be an illegal plea deal that left an unsurprised woman unsurprisingly dead. I’m not saying that any of them treated John Kristofak with special leniency because his target was his ex-wife, but why was he released from prison with such a paltry sentence when he had just set out to kill someone, threatened her repeatedly, stalked her, and then tried to kidnap her from a public place?
Kristofak remained in jail until October, when he cut a plea deal with the court that would sentence him to seven months in jail and have him serve the rest of the 5-year term on probation.
According to the transcript of the guilty plea Oct. 12, Donna Kristofak told the judge: “I definitely want a permanent order of no contact. May I also say that a protective order existed the night of the arrest and I do not feel that will necessarily bring safety.”
Judge Grubbs: “I understand that. It’s a little different with a TPO and filing a protective order. … If he violates the order in this case he gets picked up by the probation violation and put in jail immediately.”
Mrs. Kristofak: “Yes, your honor, I respect that and thank you for that. My fear is that I may not survive that …”
“I understand,” the judge said, cutting in.
“… I fear for my life,” Mrs. Kristofak continued.
“I can’t tell you with 100 percent, I’d be lying to you and I am sorry you are in that position,” said the judge, sounding sympathetic. “But whatever I do, you can go out and, you’ve got that risk but you will have that … copy of the protective order so the minute you get nervous about anything you call the police. … It’s as close as we can get to 100 percent.”
“Thank you, your honor,” Mrs. Kristofak said. “May I ask, your honor, that it is on the record that I fear for my life?”
“It is on the record,” said Judge Grubbs . . .
On December 22, John Kristofak killed Donna Kristofak in the garage of her home.
Keeping Kristofak in prison would have been 100%. Apparently, the restraining order was a giant zero.
If Kristofak was treated with special leniency in the March crime because his victim was his wife, something needs to be done about that.
If Kristofak was treated with run-or-the-mill leniency for no special reason, something needs to be done about that, too.