Some thoughts from our Women’s Studies Intern, Amelia, on a recent domestic violence case in Florida—
On February 7, 2012, a Florida judge ordered Joseph Bray, who appeared in court for a bond hearing on domestic violence charges, to take his wife out on a date to dinner at Red Lobster and bowling. A victim of domestic violence should not be ordered to spend more time with her abuser. In addition, couples counseling was mandated. Judge John Hurley, instead of setting a bond for Bray, released him immediately and provided him with an illogical sentence.
Watch the video of the court proceedings here.
While Judge Hurley explains his punishment to Bray, the defendant and his attorney break out into laughter. Domestic violence is not a laughing matter. The Judge’s reasoning for the obscure order? The offense was “very, very minor.” Joseph Bray pushed his wife onto the couch, put his hands around her neck, and positioned his hand in a fist as if to punch her. This was the second time that Sonja Bray had called police due to physical attacks she endured at the hands of her husband.
Judge Hurley did not believe that a protective order was necessary. What about Sonja Bray? Does she feel unsafe around her husband? Ideally, victims and survivors should be given time to talk to a member of the court in private about what she or he would like to see happen. Instead, Judge Hurley questioned Sonja about her husband in front of him and a courtroom full of strangers, asking questions such as: Is she in fear of him? Does she think that he will cause any harm to her? Why did he treat her like this? Ideally, these are questions that should have been asked in private where Sonja could have felt safe enough to answer them in confidence. A judge should not simply deem that a protective order is unnecessary due to his or her own personal opinions on the matter.
Judge Hurley’s sentence is a prime example that our legal system can actually work against victims at times. As Haley Cutler, a domestic violence advocate in Broward County where the case was heard, stated in an interview, “Judge Hurley’s ruling makes light of the real risks posed to domestic violence victims, demonstrates a lack of understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence and contributes to a culture and climate where victims feel betrayed by the system and batterers feel empowered by it.” I could not agree more. Judge Hurley’s action could conceivably put Sonja Bray into more danger by questioning her in front of her abuser, allowing him to be released from jail immediately without bail and without a protective order, forcing her to go on a date with him, and minimizing the severity of her case in front of the courtroom.
We must also consider what other victims of intimate partner violence in Broward County, Florida who have heard this story might be feeling or thinking. In fear of being treated in the same insensitive manner, they may feel afraid or uncomfortable to report abuse they may be experiencing. This can also be extended to all victims and survivors of any violent crime. Judge Hurley’s sentence is an example of the type of behavior that can potentially silence victims and survivors.
Local domestic violence advocates are asking residents to call Chief Judge Peter Weinstein and demand that Hurley “participate in judiciary training about the dynamics of domestic violence” and apologize. People across the country can send a message to Broward County that how Hurley handled Joesph Bray’s case is not okay. If you would like to express your concern about this case, the number for Chief Justice Peter Weinstein’s office is (954) 831-5506. I plan to begin law school in the fall, and I find it hard to accept a legal system that does not advocate for victims and survivors of domestic violence. How do you feel about this? Please share your comments!