Security heightened at Honolulu court for domestic violence cases

Heightened security measures at Honolulu District Court for domestic violence cases
Published: Feb. 3, 2016 at 11:10 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2016 at 11:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At the Honolulu District Court on a recent morning, the eighth floor hallway is packed with people.

They're all here for domestic violence cases. They're victims, suspects and witnesses.

To separate the sides, the state Judiciary is trying something new at the location: Keeping victims and alleged perpetrators using ropes, and distinguished the two with signs and color-coded wristbands.

Defendants wear yellow, victims wear purple, and witnesses wear green.

"We want every party in every case to feel safe to have their day in court ... not feel intimidated," says Tammy Mori, Judiciary spokewoman.

They also added an additional deputy Sheriff to monitor the hallway.

Cristina Arias, of the Domestic Violence Action Center, says having victims and alleged suspects so close together is asking for problems.

"This is when threats happen," she said.

That's because people gather in this hallway for the final hearing before the trial, called calendar call.

Defense Attorney Victor Bakke says the additional security measures are needed, but wouldn't be necessary if prosecutors stopped sending subpoenas to victims for calendar calls, especially because the trial is usually just days away.

"They're putting them in this position of being in close proximity of defendants when it's completely unnecessary," he said. "Today is not the trial, it is just a scheduling conference to determine which cases will go to trial this week."

Bakke said domestic violence is the only charge where prosecutors require the victims to be at calendar call.

When it comes to this issue, Bakke and the Domestic Violence Action Center are on the same page.

DVAC said by this point victims have already been called to numerous meetings and hearings, and another appearance other than the trial is cumbersome.

"They have to find child care. They have to worry about their transportation. They have to take some time off of work," Arias said.

But the city Prosecutor's Office says it is important for victims to be at calendar call in domestic violence cases.

"Their presence can help us declare to the judge with some confidence that we are ready to proceed to trial the next day," said Dave Koga, spokesman for the office. "The bottom line is that if a victim doesn't testify, the abuser will not be held accountable."

While the use of the wristbands is new to the Alakea court location, it is not new to the system.

Family court in Kapolei has a similar process, but there is a lot more room there so defendants can use one hallway while victims use another hallway and law enforcement personnel are in the middle.

At the Alakea location, it is just one hallway -- a confined space.

Bakke says he doesn't like that his clients are sometimes forced into a tight corner, but understands the need for additional security and says as long as the prosecutor's office requires victims to appear at calendar call, the wristbands are needed.

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