A Missouri lawmaker wants to close loopholes in state law that allow domestic violence survivors to be further victimized or re-victimized. State Representative Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, tells Missourinet he saw such roadblocks for victims happen time and time again during his long career in law enforcement.

Roberts has pre-filed a bill that would allow survivors to testify in court via video conferencing.

State Rep. Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), the House Crime Prevention Committee Chair, speaks on the House floor on May 10, 2021 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

“Their reluctance to face that person in the same room they’re concerned about retaliation all of those things I think contribute to the number of times a domestic violence case gets dismissed,” he says. “And when you think about attending a hearing on a domestic violence question, and the person you’re most frightened of is in the same room with you, this person who’s terrorized you for months or maybe even years and you’re in the same room with them, that person will know what time and what place you’re going to be for this hearing. Some of these victims actually have to have strategic plans for getting in and out of the courthouse so that they don’t get accosted in the parking lot or somewhere else.”

He says the legislation’s intent is to balance protecting survivors and the innocent until proven guilty.

“Anytime you’re involved in a legal proceeding, particularly when it’s on the criminal side, the consequences of the conviction can be fairly dire depending on on what the crime was. So, it’s very important that we have a clear conscience when we convict somebody of something,” says Roberts. “We need to be very sure that we’ve done an appropriate job of due process, and I do not want us to ever be accused of somehow subverting the whole intent of that innocence until proven guilty. On the other hand, there are ways to facilitate that due process and doing a good job of due process without sacrificing the victim and this the intent of this bill, is to try to find that balance.”

It would specify that victims and their witnesses don’t have to share their home or work addresses when testifying in court, unless the court says so.

“It’s not perfect. I mean, it’s not going to prevent someone from finding them if they try hard enough. But there’s no sense in us from the from in the legal side of things, making it easy for the abuser to find their victims or the victim’s family or where they live. And that’s what I was referring to when we talk about the legal system re-victimizing,” he says.

House Bill 1699 would also make clear that when someone is notified of an upcoming court hearing about a protection order against them, the person cannot say they did not know they were notified.

Roberts says he might tweak the bill to still allow plea bargains in domestic violence cases.

“Just because of the nature of this, we want to draw a really bright line. But most prosecutors will tell you that when they don’t have the ability to work plea bargains, it hampers them a great deal. In fact, it was brought to my attention by an advocate for domestic violence that maybe it might do more harm than good. That is absolutely not what I want to have come out of this,” he says.

The Missouri Legislature passed a bill this year with language attached by Roberts that allows victims to get up to a lifetime order of protection against their abuser. The law also aims to prevent stalking by a third party, including a person or use of technology like a drone or GPS.

The legislative session begins January 5 in Jefferson City.

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