A Day in the Life at ALDFPosted by Scott Heiser, Director of ALDF's Criminal Justice Program on March 16th, 2009
Not too long ago, I got a typical call from a somewhat harried prosecutor. She works as the lead attorney in the domestic violence unit of her office, loves animals and had heard that ALDF can help busy prosecutors get better results in their cases. In this situation, she recently secured convictions against a man who had assaulted his girlfriend, killed one of her two kittens and injured the other kitten. The surviving kitten, Max, was safe (for the time being) in the care and custody of the local animal shelter. The problem that this prosecutor faced was that the defendant’s girlfriend (and Max’s owner) had reunited with the defendant and was once again living with him and she wanted Max back—a not so surprising fact for those familiar with the cycle of domestic violence and the strained logic employed by victims who are seemingly trapped in abusive relationships.
The trial court entered an order banning the defendant from possessing animals in the wake of his conviction for killing one of his girlfriend’s two kittens, but that prohibition didn’t apply to the victim, as she wasn’t a formal party to the criminal case against her boyfriend (despite the widespread passage of victims’ rights acts around the country, victims have not been elevated to “party status” in criminal prosecutions). During an earlier hearing, the prosecutor informed the court that, given the possession ban applicable to the defendant, coupled with the fact that the defendant and victim (owner of the surviving cat) were once again living together, the state would oppose any attempt to release the “evidence” (i.e., the surviving kitten) back to the victim now that the criminal case was resolved. The trial court noted the state’s objection and quipped that the court likely didn’t have jurisdiction over the victim and that the court probably would be forced to overrule the state’s objection. Nevertheless, the trial judge set the case over for a short period of time to give the very busy prosecutor a chance to research the issue and substantiate her objection.
Having heard of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, the prosecutor called us for help. We did a fair amount of research for the prosecutor and drafted a series of legal arguments for the state to make in support of its objection to returning the “evidence” to a domestic violence victim who had resumed living with the very same man who assaulted her, killed one of her cats and injured the other. I’ll not bore you with the legal details. Rather, I’m please to simply report that this very busy, yet truly dedicated, young prosecutor took our research, coupled with her own excellent work, and persuaded the trial judge that his initial assessment of the case was incorrect and that he did, in fact, have the authority to sustain the state’s objection to entering an order compelling the return of the surviving kitten. In fact, Max was ordered forfeited to the animal shelter, where the lucky little guy will be adopted out to a loving, nonviolent home. The local media covered the story and reported the court’s ruling as “groundbreaking.”
I share this story with you for three reasons:
- to give our donors some “day in the life” insight into how their generous support of ALDF makes a difference for little guys like Max on a daily basis;
- to publicly applaud the work of Tiffany Wasserburger, Chief Deputy, Family Law Division, Scottsbluff County Attorneys’ Office, located in Gering, Nebraska; and
- to humbly boast that I have a really great job!