Florida Judge jails domestic abuse victim for refusing to testify

Judge Jerri L. Collins sentenced a woman to three days in jail for contempt of court after refusing to testify at her abuser's trial.

Collins scolded the victim for not appearing, even after she began crying in court at the judge's scolding, telling her she was under subpoena and had no choice.

"I am very sorry for not attending," the victim said. "I've been dealing with depression … my anxiety is like, this is every day for me."

This was not good enough for Collins, who told her "you think you have anxiety now? You haven't even seen anxiety," and threw her in jail.

"You disobeyed a court order knowing that this would not going to turn out well for the state," she said.

In the trial, defendant Myles Brennan reportedly pleaded guilty to simple battery and was sentenced to 16 days in jail. Prosecutors had hoped for a more severe term, but the woman's refusal to testify against him hurt their case.

"I'll do anything, please," she said as bailiffs moved to put her in cuffs. "I have a 1-year-old son. I'm trying to take care of him myself. I'm begging you please, please don't."

Observers find the judge's behavior unusual and unacceptable, but said sanctions aren't possible as it was within the law.

Collins has never had a complaint filed against her with the State Judicial Qualifications Commission. WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said even if one is filed in this case, Collins will never be reprimanded for making that call because she was within the law. … Sheaffer said if Collins is ever disciplined or talked to by her chief judge, it will be done in confidence.

The Orlando Sentinel, however, reports that the level of disgust at Collins is running high and may energize an appeal, even if the victim's time in jail can't be recovered.

Jeanne Gold, chief executive officer of the domestic-violence-prevention group SafeHouse, said she was appalled by the treatment of a victim who appeared to be too scared to testify.

A former prosecutor in Seminole County, Gold said the victim should not be the target of the judge's frustration over wasted court resources.

"I can't blame the state for wanting to get a bad guy, but you cannot lean on a victim of domestic violence to solve the societal issues in our world," said Gold, who leads the Seminole County-based organization. "It's so unfair, and it just shows that there is a lot more education needed."

A verbal reprimand or community service would have sufficed as punishment, she added.

When she went to police, the woman said Brennan "choked her, pressed his thumbs against her eyes and came at her with a knife," according to an arrest report cited in news reports.

Victims get cold feet before testifying in domestic-violence cases all the time, said Orlando criminal-defense attorney Richard Hornsby, who has experience with the proceedings.But he's never seen a victim jailed because of it, he said.

"Most judges take the position that they are not going to re-victimize the person," he said. "The court is not offended, and the charges are dismissed by the prosecutor."