When Domestic Violence Accusations – Not Pigs – Fly
“If looks could kill” – a statement sometimes reserved for the cold-shoulder stare of a beautiful woman. No harm, no foul if she gives you ice daggers . . . right? But what if she is your girlfriend (or spouse) and she gives you “that look”?
Maybe you forgot her birthday? Missed an anniversary? Or maybe your eye wandered? Well, chances are you got to sleep on the couch or had to deal with a locked door. Sounds more like a life lesson. Or sitcom (or soap opera) material.
But what happens when your spouse, partner, or girl- or boyfriend starts leveling domestic violence charges at you? This isn’t sitcom or soap opera material – this is real-life, serious-business material. This isn’t a life lesson – this is a life altering situation.
Domestic violence – it’s a national nerve ending constantly twitching. Just look to the news on television and elsewhere. From the NFL to NASA, from down the hall to across the street – it is a hot-button issue.
The problem is: Looks – and words – can be deceiving. The real victim may not be who you think.
George Zimmerman, acquitted of killing teenager Trayvon Martin, is high-profile. No matter the acquittal, we have our opinions about him. (He continues to be “flagged” by law enforcement and the media. Consider the attention he received just for three traffic violations). Often our opinions of him are emotional, not factual. To be honest, some of us still see him as “infamous” – as a criminal.
So when he faced charges of aggravated assault, domestic violence battery, and criminal mischief, we all took notice.
During a November confrontation with his girlfriend Samantha Scheibe, Zimmerman allegedly smashed a coffee table with a shotgun, pointed the gun at her, and then aggressively shoved her out of the Florida house they shared. At least that’s what Scheibe originally told Seminole County police.
Given Zimmerman’s past publicity – and Scheibe’s vivid words – the police responded, arresting him on probable cause.
But there was little, if any, evidence of a crime. And, in a signed affidavit, Scheibe recanted her accusation:
I may have misspoken about certain facts in my statement to the police. I do not feel that the arrest report accurately recounts what happened. . . .
I want to be with George.
According to State Attorney Phil Archer:
Upon reviewing the recent affidavit, the conflicting statements about what occurred, [Scheibe’s] failure to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, and a lack of any other corroborating evidence or witnesses, there is no reasonable likelihood of successful prosecution.
According to Zimmerman’s criminal defense attorney Jayne Weintraub:
I am pleased that I was able to present credible evidence to reasonable prosecutors who took the time to listen and that justice prevailed.
This demonstrates how great our system is.
The problem is: Opinions – and lies – can turn fiction into fact.
Scheibe’s original complaint was an outburst, an emotional lie. (She later said, after the affidavit, that Zimmerman was “my boyfriend.”) But in the heat of the moment she wanted to hurt him.
We tend to react emotionally to hearing about domestic issues of violence, cruelty, abuse, and deceit. More often that not, we automatically side with the accuser, not the accused – even though the defendant, a person, may be innocent. We have a hard time separating subjective fiction from objective fact. (To be fair, many of us probably thought Zimmerman was already guilty – until proven innocent.)
But accusations have consequences: If convicted, Zimmerman could have faced five years in prison – for a crime he didn’t commit. The truth is, the effect of a false accusation may never go away. It might be carried by a victim as a lifetime scar.
The flurry of false accusations isn’t limited to domestic disputes. What about the teachers (and other professionals) who work with children or young adults? They are at risk literally every day. How often has a “little white lie” snowballed into a snowstorm of assumptions which ruin a career and life?
What about high-conflict divorce and custody situations? These can be ugly, nasty battles, very often leading to false allegations of abuse against the children, the ex-partner, or both. Again, the damage can be nuclear – destroying anyone and everyone near to the blast.
Across the U.S. we have thousands of organizations dedicated to the victims of domestic violence. We have statistics, facts and figures, and more to support the need for these organizations. Unfortunately, we have no national statistics regarding the victims of false accusation.
In the case of Zimmerman/Scheibe, the “he-said-she-said” accusation was an emotional bubble which burst, revealing a couple of individuals who were “damaged goods.” It ended with a “kiss-and-make-up” no-decision. In another situation the accusation easily could have been coldly calculated and said with real intent to do harm.
But no matter the source of the accusation – blind emotion or level-headed revenge – the damage could have been sweeping, with shock waves that would have been felt for years. The question then is:
Is there a defense against false accusation?
The Blanch Law Firm thinks so. It is very sensitive to this . It abhors domestic violence in all forms, from cruel words to physical confrontation, but it knows there is more to the story than what is in a police report.
The Blanch Law Firm, through its team of criminal defense lawyers, speaks again and again for the victims of false accusation.
– Stephen Heath-Jones
December 27, 2013