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Domestic violence victims could be arrested if they don't show up for court to face accuser


A Middle Tennessee judge is taking a hard-line approach when it comes to domestic violence cases, but his new rule could land victims of domestic violence cases behind bars.

In Rutherford County Circuit Court Judge Ben McFarlin's courtroom, Thursdays are set aside for domestic violence court.

"Here is how it works. No, you can't phone, text, email," McFarlin told those in his courtroom.

If a domestic violence victim decides not to show up, the judge has a novel way of getting them there.

"If you don't have an alleged victim, you don't have a case," McFarlin said. "If they did not appear, we would arrest them and take them to court."

Victim Robin Burke learned that the hard way.

"I think it's terrible," Burke said while giggling. "I don't like it because it happened to me."

Burke said she was sick and that's why she missed court. She said she didn't have a knock-down, drag-out fight with her boyfriend, it was an argument and his sister called the cops.

"Yes, I did fall. Yes, there was blood on my ear, but is was not domestic violence," Burke said. "I fell because when I got home, he was mad because I was intoxicated and driving."

McFarlin said victims shouldn't let their accuser intimidate them not to come to court nor should they try to recant their story.

"When the cases are being dismissed because the alleged victim is not there, that's really playing in the hands of the defendant," he said.

McFarlin believes this may be the only domestic violence court in the state that will issue a material witness subpoena and have a victim arrested and thrown into jail, if they don't show up in court and face their accuser.

Some domestic violence advocates can see the benefit of forcing victims to come to court, but they are also concerned about them being re-victimized.

"If we want the person prosecuted we need the victim, but we don't want to victimize the victim by demanding her court presence under the threat of arrest," said domestic violence advocate Deborah Johnson. "It's a very difficult issue."

McFarlin said it's tough love, but it's worth saving the life of a victim.

"It's a problem that needs to be addressed," McFarland said. "The community needs to know that domestic violence will not be tolerated."

The judge said there is a Domestic Violence Coordinators Program which gives alleged victims support. He said by forcing victims to come to court, they can talk with a professional and get the help they need to get out of the abusive situation.

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