Prosecutor: Bills would harm abuse survivors
Published 3/2/2023 2:18:58 PM
The Polk County Attorney’s Office asks Iowa legislators to proceed carefully before passing bills to discharge defendants from probation early.
The legislation -- House File 349 and Senate Study Bill 1004 -- would allow defendants to earn credits for complying with the terms of probation, attaining a degree or other educational goal, and maintaining employment. The credits would allow defendants to reduce their probation time by as much as 40 to 60 percent from what a judge ordered, depending on the version of the bill.
“I support this bill with a major caveat: That legislators create exceptions for those convicted of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, stalking, or violent offenses against victims,” said Polk County Attorney Kimberly Graham. “No one will die by staying on their full term of probation. But someone could be killed if a dangerous person goes off supervision.”
Assistant County Attorney Shannon M. Bogolin, who prosecutes domestic violence cases, wrote a letter to legislators raising alarms regarding the bills. It is reprinted below.
“Shannon empowers survivors to have a voice in the judicial process, and she is passionate about protecting them,” Graham said. “While I do support the overall goals of this legislation regarding non-violent offenses, please listen to Shannon and consider important changes to these bills."
My name is Shannon M. Bogolin. For the past five years I have prosecuted domestic violence cases. During this time I have spent countless hours working with victims, speaking to officers, and working with advocates to further victim protections. Prosecuting domestic violence and stalking offenses is my vocation -- I have chosen to do this work to ensure we identify how to combat this silent and dark epidemic.
It has come to my attention that HF349/SSB1004 would allow defendants to receive “earned credit,” therefore allowing individuals to be discharged from probation earlier. I appreciate “earned credit” is beneficial to those charged with non-violent offenses where there is no identifiable victim. However, it is outside my ability to understand why certain offenses, specifically domestic violence and or sexual abuse, is included in the bill. Domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assaults have always been treated differently -- why stop now?
This bill sends the message that you care more about the abuser than the victim. Please do not damper the voices of so many victims by allowing their abuser to earn early release from supervision. Let the voice of the victim be valued and heard as long as possible. How do I explain to a victim that this bill furthers justice in violent and potentially lethal cases?
At a minimum, please exclude domestic abuse, stalking, and sex assault cases from this bill. These types of cases should continue to be at the probation officers’ discretion for early discharge. A senior leader for the Department of Corrections indicated that 60% of defendants are discharged early. Abusers are masters at gaslighting others and following the “rules.” They should not get credit for getting a job and or working towards their education. These “credits” do not hit at the heart of the issue with these types of offenses. Probation officers will not be able to fully comprehend or understand the danger a defendant poses to a victim if they are discharged early. It takes time to truly identify a person’s character and to appreciate the danger they pose.
Domestic violence is cyclical. The initial phase is calm; unfortunately, as in any cycle, it changes. The next phase is the tension-building phase where the abuser begins to become increasingly agitated and begins to make threats. The following phase is explosion, in which the threats are made good. This phase can potentially last mere seconds; however, in those seconds a person can lose a life or be brutally assaulted. The last phase is the honeymoon phase; which, on its face, sounds romantic. This phase is when the abuser begins to gaslight their victim to think the assault was their fault or that it will never happen again. This cycle is repeated over and over UNTIL the abuser stops, not the victim. The victim could ultimately leave the relationship; however, the abuser could begin to stalk them or find a new victim. Either way, the abuser will not stop this cycle without meaningful intervention.
It is important to understand most victims do not seek help from law enforcement out of strength but rather fear (fear the abuser will kill them, fear because the abuse is escalating, fear because the abuser threatens to have them deported, and or fear because the abuser threatens to have their children taken away, etc.) Typically, victims of domestic violence are abused numerous times before they finally reach out for help. Additionally, it may take several cases and or charges before the abuser is ever truly held accountable in a court of law because the victim was too scared to cooperate.
Once an abuser is held responsible, victims report they feel safer when the abuser is on probation. The victim has someone to reach out to ensure the abuser is getting better, engaged in programming, or to ask for help because the abusive cycle is starting again. In State v. Thompson, the victim reached out to the probation officer hours before he took her life. State v. Thompson, 982 N.W.2d 116, 119 (Iowa 2022) The victim sent the following message to the probation officer, “Maggie, I a[m] tired o[f] being scared ... he is a drunk. I called the cops and they said to contact you. I need your help I am done. [H]elp please.”
Keeping an abuser on probation allows a professional to keep a pulse on how the defendant is acting. We need to be doing more, not less, with these types of cases. Domestic abusers are good at keeping tabs. They will know the exact date of their release if they follow the most basic rules. Victims, however, would be in the dark with this legislation. If an abuser is sentenced to two years of probation, for example, a victim will build her life around that time period. She may never be notified if the abuser earns credit and is released early. The victim will constantly be living in fear.
Thank you for reading my perspective as you consider this important legislation.
Shannon Marie Bogolin
Assistant Polk County Attorney
Polk County Attorney's Office
Domestic Violence Unit
222 Fifth Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50309