Virginia Domestic Violence Victim Charged for Cannabis Consumption During Court Testimony

A Virginia Circuit Judge stopped a domestic violence victim mid-testimony to jail her for alleged cannabis use.

Loudon County Circuit Judge James P. Fisher in Virginia, who was recently presiding over a domestic violence case, sentenced the victim to 10 days in jail after she admitted that she smoked cannabis earlier that day. Fisher had her removed from the stands mid-testimony by multiple deputies, as described by a brief from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. The victim served two days in jail, and was released on a bond of $1,000.

According to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elena Ventura, the victim received less than ideal treatment. “In the middle of a difficult (cross examination), she was detained, interrogated, arrested and removed from the courtroom,” the situation is cited in the brief, according to the Virginia Mercury. Ventura also described her as “not treated with the respect, sensitivity or dignity required by law.”

The brief mentions that the victim was visibly nervous as she testified for an hour-and-a-half. Her abuser had been found guilty of abuse twice in the past. However, the brief states that despite the nature of the case and the victim’s mental state, Fisher proceeded with “intense and assertive questioning focused on drug-addiction and infidelity.” He spoke with detectives who had spoken with her before the trial, and described her behavior as consistent and showed no signs of impairment or intoxication.

According to the authors of the brief, Fisher’s reaction poses a threat to future cases which “may create a chilling effect surrounding victim willingness to testify in cases of domestic violence, an area of law already replete with victims recanting and/or refusing to cooperate, due to the extensive trauma domestic violence victims experience through the cycle of power and control, especially in cases where victims have mental health concerns, as… in the case at bar.”

Unfortunately, Fisher has had similar reactions on previous cases in the past. He sentenced a divorce lawyer to one night in jail for contempt of court when she asked him to clarifying his ruling. However, it is within his right as a judge to pose a $250 fine and jail individuals for up to 10 days if they misbehave, exhibit violent behavior, or use inappropriate language, according to the Virginia contempt statute.

The attorney who is representing the victim, Thomas K. Plofchan, Jr. of Westlake Legal Group, also supported the claim that she did nothing wrong, and didn’t deserve to be treated in that manner. “She did not admit to doing any illegal activity nor did she admit to being under the influence in the courtroom,” Plofchan, Jr. states. “There was no slurring of her words, nothing that indicated that she had taken some sort of intoxicant that affected her speech or muscular movement.”

Even local legislators, such as Senator Jennifer Boysko, a representative of Loudoun County, noted that there’s a history of not protecting victims in cases such as these, when instead they should be treated with “respect and dignity.” Likewise, Senator Scott Surovell brought up the question of how things would have proceeded if she had admitted to consuming alcohol earlier that morning instead of cannabis.

Recreational cannabis possession and cultivation has been legal in Virginia since July 1, although sales aren’t expected to occur until January 1, 2024. Although this is progress for southern states such as Virginia, there is clearly still more that needs to be done so that cannabis consumption isn’t grounds for punishment in an unrelated case. For now, a hearing is set for next week to vacate the contempt charge.

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