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A lengthy amount of jail time is largely unheard of in domestic violence cases. That’s why the 45-year sentence handed down in Colorado in May made national headlines.
Mitchell Lee Gibson, 30, a civilian living with his military wife at Fort Carson was charged with assault resulting in serious bodily injury, assault with a dangerous weapon and assault of a spouse by strangling and suffocation, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.
In a statement from the Department of Justice, Jeff Dorschner said Gibson “whipped the victim with a coaxial cable, which he regularly made her retrieve for him prior to the beatings. He would choke her with the cable until she blacked out, and then pour boiling hot water on her stomach, groin and leg to revive her.” All of this while she was nine weeks pregnant.
Advocates are hoping the 45-year sentence will set a precedent for future rulings.
“Forty-five years is certainly uncommon, and so it is very exciting and empowering I think for survivors to see that outcome,” Kristy Bootes, lead hospital advocate for a domestic violence organization called Tessa, told Colorado Springs’ Fox 21 News. “I think it not only sends a message to the abusers that you can get 45 years in jail for these heinous crimes, but also to the victims.”
The U.S. shouldn’t expect to see much change however in less severe cases anytime soon, say many advocates. “Jail time, especially for first-time offenders or lower-level misdemeanor crimes, is still very, very rare,” says Sandra Tibbetts Murphy, legal and policy advisor for the Battered Women’s Justice Project. “And that response is staying the same.”
Why is that?
“There are multiple reasons, not the least of which is budget,” Murphy says. “In some areas, jail time is outright not an option due to prison overcrowding. But even in states with mandatory jail time, the offender may serve only a week behind bars.” For these reasons, Murphy and other advocates favor probation for offenders of misdemeanors.
“As a former prosecutor, I often preferred probation over jail time,” she says. “I saw people say ‘I can do jail time in the blink of an eye.’ But with probation, offenders have to check in regularly and are subject to anger management classes, random searches as well as alcohol and drug tests.”
While sentencing for misdemeanors may not be changing quickly enough, Murphy is encouraged by the progress being made overall in domestic violence cases. “Over time, one thing that has been a very slow growing success, is to get this massive system to be more effective. Sentencing has and continues to evolve in the development of law enforcement response and prosecution response.” Everyone needs to continue working together.
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