Domestic Violence Fairytales Threaten Constitutional Protections

Kristin Ruggiero of New Hampshire figured it would be a slam dunk. The gambit worked like a charm during the divorce hearing; now she would bring the case to criminal court.

Her husband Jeffrey, an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, was an incorrigible batterer, at least that’s what she led to the judge to believe. That got him convicted of criminal threatening, and she won custody of their 7-year-old daughter.

But Kristin Ruggiero wasn’t finished.

One day, the woman bragged to her startled ex, “I took all your money, I took your daughter, and now I’m going to take your career.” She went out and purchased a disposable cell phone and registered it in Jeffrey's name. Then she sent herself a passel of threatening text messages.

Apparently Kristin didn’t realize that in criminal court, allegations are subjected to a higher standard of proof. And all of a sudden the nefarious scheme to frame her ex-husband came crashing down.

Last week Kristin Ruggiero was convicted on 12 counts of falsifying physical evidence and sentenced to 7-14 years in prison.

This tale is not so much about a distraught woman sorely in need of psychological help. Rather, it’s a story of a police department, a prosecutor, and a judge that allowed themselves to be duped by a conniving perjurer. And it’s about a criminal justice system that has all but abandoned due process in a frenzied attempt to curb domestic violence.

Like everything in the law, the problem begins with definitions. The Violence Against Women Act, passed during the first term of the Clinton administration, includes a definition of domestic violence that is so wide you could drive a Mack truck through it.

States picked up on the loophole, and now most states include within their definitions of abuse, actions like making your partner “annoyed” or “distressed.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  likewise followed suit. The CDC’s Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements declares that partner violence includes “getting annoyed if the victim disagrees,” “withholding information from the victim,” and even “disregarding what the victim wants.”

Note the CDC’s repeated use of the word “victim.” In VAWA-speak, a victim does not need to be a prostrate body lying in a pool of blood. Rather, a mere accusation elevates you to the status of victim. No proof of violence is necessary. Recall the Queen of Hearts’ disdainful remark, “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.”