Alleged Abuser Attends Zoom Hearing With Domestic Violence Victim

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We previously discussed courtroom etiquette in our blog post, Virtual Courtroom Decorum. With the continued use of online platforms to conduct hearings, it is no surprise that we continue to witness courtroom improprieties.

A St. Joseph County, Michigan, Assistant Prosecutor is being applauded for her stealth observation after suspecting that an abuser was in the same room as the victim during a preliminary hearing.

On March 2, 2021, Judge Jeffrey Middleton held a preliminary hearing via Zoom due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The hearing was broadcast online and has been viewed over 1.4 million times on YouTube. Colby Harris was charged with assaulting his girlfriend on February 9, 2021. Due to the pending charges, a no-contact order was issued preventing Harris from being in contact with the victim. Noticing Harris and the victim’s behavior during the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor alerts the Court that she believes Harris and the victim to be in the same room. Fearing for the victim’s safety, the Judge asks the victim as well as Harris to confirm their locations. Within minutes, the police arrive at the victim’s residence and knock at her door. Less than five minutes later, Harris is seen being handcuffed. At that point, it was clear to everyone on that Zoom hearing that Harris was in the same residence as the victim, as she testified to the assault committed by Harris. Whether she consented to have him in her apartment at that time or not, this situation raises questions regarding the safety of domestic violence victims during the pandemic. The pandemic has been an incredibly difficult period for all, but particularly for victims of domestic violence who now find themselves confined with their abusers.

In Pennsylvania, those who fear imminent bodily injury should obtain protection from their abuser through a Protection from Abuse Order. Typically, an individual seeking a protection from abuse order will obtain one a temporary protection order from the Court. After obtaining a temporary protection from abuse order, the Court will schedule a date and time for the final hearing after the alleged abuser has been served with the temporary order. Parties can enter a Final Protection from Abuse Order or a No-Contact Consent Order.

You should know that in Pennsylvania, a Protection from Abuse Order is not akin to what people generally known as a restraining order. There are criteria for obtaining a Protection from Abuse Order that must be met before the Court will issue a temporary order. A Protection from Abuse Order can only be issued between the following: Spouses or persons who have been spouses, persons living as spouses or who lived as spouses, parents and children, other persons related by consanguinity or affinity, current or former sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood.

If you are seeking assistance in preparing for a Final Protection from Abuse hearing, call our office at (412) 281-9906 to speak with one our experienced Pennsylvania domestic violence attorneys to find out how we can assist you and ensure you are not intimidated or that you find yourself in the same room as your abuser on the day of your hearing.