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Virginia judge jails alleged domestic violence victim for smoking pot on day of court testimony

Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James P. Fisher.
Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James P. Fisher.(Don Del Rosso/Fauquier Now)
Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 8:32 AM EDT
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A judge in Loudoun County interrupted the testimony of the alleged victim in a felony domestic violence trial last week to question her drug use, sentencing her to 10 days in jail for contempt of court after she said she had smoked marijuana earlier in the day.

She was then “physically removed from the witness stand by multiple deputies,” according to a brief filed by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, which supports the woman’s motion to vacate the contempt charge lodged by Circuit Court Judge James P. Fisher.

The woman, who prosecutors say did not appear intoxicated, served two days in jail before she was released on a $1,000 bond, according to court records.

“In the middle of a difficult (cross-examination), she was detained, interrogated, arrested and removed from the courtroom,” wrote Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elena Ventura, who argued the woman was “not treated with the respect, sensitivity or dignity required by law.”

Marijuana is now legal in Virginia and prosecutors wrote in their brief that their witness was just anxious and nervous during the approximately hour and a half of testimony she provided against her partner, who was found guilty twice before of abusing her. They said Fisher’s inquiry followed “intense and assertive (defense) questioning focused on drug-addiction and infidelity.”

Prosecutors also wrote that Fisher refused to hear from detectives who had interacted with her before the trial, who they said would have testified her “behaviors were consistent with all prior interactions and that she exhibited no signs of intoxication prior to her testimony.”

But the biggest issue, the commonwealth’s attorneys office said, was that Fisher’s actions “may create a chilling effect surrounding victim willingness to testify in cases of domestic violence, an area of law already replete with victims recanting and/or refusing to cooperate, due to the extensive trauma domestic violence victims experience through the cycle of power and control, especially in cases where victims have mental health concerns, as … in the case at bar.”

Fisher, the former commonwealth attorney of Fauquier County and onetime chair of the county’s Republican committee, was appointed by the General Assembly to an eight-year term in 2019. Efforts to reach his office were unsuccessful and judges in Virginia rarely comment on proceedings.

It is not the first time Fisher has jailed someone in his courtroom for contempt — a step that legal observers say is unusual in Virginia.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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