Domingo Santiago plead guilty to “gagging his wife, binding her wrists together, and beating her with a cord.” Yet a Georgia judge tossed out the state’s prosecution of Santiago after a series of questions that seemed much more concerned with whether Santiago’s wife would gain some advantage from her abusive husband’s conviction than with enforcing the law of his state.
During Santiago’s trial, South Georgia Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge A. Wallace Cato discovered that Santiago “beat his wife after learning that she was having an affair,” and that the couple had since reconciled. Judge Cato also asked whether Santiago and his wife “get in bed together and get it on?” When they said that they do, indeed, have sex, the judge complained that the prosecution was “a little ridiculous” and asked Santiago if he thought that his wife would hold a conviction “over his head” in order to “make you do what she says.”
After Santiago responded that, yes, he did think his wife would hold it over his head if he were convicted for tying her up and beating her, Judge Cato dismissed the case.
Last week, an appeals court reinstated this prosecution, holding that Cato exceeded his lawful role by making a decision that rested with the prosecutor. In reversing Cato, the appeals court also criticized his conduct at the trial. “We consider the trial court’s questions to Santiago and his wife about her adultery, their sex life, and whether she would hold a conviction over his head highly inappropriate and irrelevant,” Judge Yvette Miller wrote for a three-judge panel. “By dismissing the case without any legal basis and over the State’s objection, the trial court impermissibly abridged the State’s right to prosecute Santiago.”
Judge Cato’s decision to focus on Santiago and his wife’s post-abuse reconciliation ignored the fraught emotions that often lead victims of abuse to return to their abusers. According to one scholarly paper, “[v]ictims of domestic violence are more prone than other crime victims to recant or refuse to cooperate after initially providing information to police.” Indeed, “evidence suggests that 80 to 85 percent of battered women will recant at some point.”