There were 167 new domestic violence cases filed with the Rio Arriba County Magistrate Court in 2018, up from the 145 cases filed the previous year, according to a report from the New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository.
A significant portion of the new 2018 cases were prosecuted by First Judicial District Attorney’s Office Senior Trial Attorney Jane Handley.
Prosecuting domestic violence cases is difficult and are fraught with challenges because they involve intimate personal details about the relationship between victims and abusers.
The difficulty in navigating the intimate details and framework of an abusive relationship can be daunting for prosecutors and has sparked national discussions about whether or not victim cooperation is necessary to proceed in court.
In some cases, even when victims refuse to testify, prosecutors continue with prosecution based on the victim’s initial statements to police and evidence collected at the scene. Handley is still prosecuting a case against a Velarde man despite testimony from his fiancee that the two were reconciling and she was confused the night of the incident because she suffered from a menstrual disorder, but in another case she dismissed charges citing lack of witness cooperation. Handley said decisions like these have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
In Rio Arriba County, Handley takes on varied domestic violence cases including those that involve battery, assault, false imprisonment and stalking or harassment.
Domestic violence prosecutions are not the stuff of television shows, Handley said in a phone interview Monday, but the work is important and has long reaching impact into the lives of victims, which also includes children who have witnessed or experienced abuse.
The Repository report states that children were present at one in every three domestic violence incidents in 2018. Roughly three out of four children who witnessed the incidents were younger than 12 years old. The report also states children who witness domestic violence are four times more likely to experience child abuse than other children.
Handley said the impact on children and the long-reaching effects of domestic violence are driving factors in her work.
“Domestic violence has been seen as a private issue for many years,” Handley said. “It’s complicated, and for victims in the past, that has meant no one was willing to help them.”
Now, Handley says, the laws and protections for victims are much better than they used to be and there is a willingness in the legal community to address violence that occurs in the home.
During the past year, she has relentlessly prosecuted defendants who have brutally assaulted their victims. Not all cases result in conviction, but Handley said she makes time to listen to and understand victims. In the end, she said, her job as a prosecutor is to serve the interests of justice, and part of that job includes listening to victim needs when prosecuting a case.
“I feel like I can have a real impact on people’s lives prosecuting these cases,” Handley said.