The Loudoun Times-Mirror reported in its September 24 issue that an alleged victim of domestic violence was found in contempt of court and sentenced to 10 days in jail after admitting she had smoked marijuana prior to coming to court. According to the article and its accompanying editorial, Circuit Court Judge James Fisher noted in his order that while testifying on September 7, the alleged victim was “incoherent, circuitous, and inattentive.” He said her speech was “lethargic and rambling and at times was alternating unnaturally between high and low tones.” He also found that she had refused to obey court orders. What the Times-Mirror didn’t report was that Judge Fisher also stated in an order that the alleged victim had tested positive for both marijuana and methamphetamines after being taken to an emergency room. No wonder the judge made the observations he did about the witness’s demeanor.
Domestic violence is a crime that should be vigorously prosecuted regardless of the sex of the victim. In a subsequent trial, the alleged victim in this case should have her day in court to seek justice. But is it too much to ask that a victim be sober when testifying in court against an alleged perpetrator? Apparently it is, according to Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, who was reported as saying, “if she smoked marijuana, didn’t smoke marijuana—that does not change the fact that she came before this court on the allegation that somebody physically abused her.”
The prosecution also argued that since marijuana is now legal in Virginia, the witness should not have been punished. Since alcohol is also legal in Virginia, I suppose it would be permissible for a witness to have a couple of drinks before coming to court to testify. After all, what difference does a little incoherency in a witness’s testimony make?
Ms. Biberaj was also quoted as saying, “we want the message to be sent to the victims that you are guaranteed that you will be treated with dignity and respect when you come to our courts.” Fair enough. And I would submit that our courts are entitled to the same consideration from witnesses and attorneys.
Thanks to Judge Fisher for upholding a rational standard of behavior for witnesses in Loudoun County courts despite the malicious and unwarranted criticism he is receiving.
Dewitt Black, retired lawyer