Victims no longer even have to breathe the same air as their offenders in Ohio County Court

West Virginia Headlines

Victims of sexual assault or domestic abuse can now appear in the courtroom without physically stepping into the room.

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October 31 2021 11:59 pm

OHIO COUNTY, W.VA. (WTRF) – A trial-run of a trial took place Wednesday in Ohio County. It’s one that judges are calling a huge step for the state in properly taking on domestic violence and sexual assault cases in the Mountain State.

Come October 4, Ohio County will be the second county in the state, Cabell being the first, to introduce this remote technology. 

Previously, in order to take on a case, victims had to go in person to magistrate court.

I come from a background of domestic violence in my family growing up and I can remember the look in my dad’s eye. All you needed to do is see that look in his eye.

Prosecuting Attorney

Often times we have people who file them but once they get more information about how the court system works, and where they’re going to be sitting and what the courtroom looks like, they sometimes change their minds.

Defense Attorney

The test trial in Judge Wood’s Courtroom signs a new future for the court systems in West Virginia, backed by the Supreme Court of Appeals. 

My second courtroom, it is a single table. The victim and the respondent are within touching distance. It can be incredibly tense.

Judge Heather Wood, Ohio County Family Court

But will the video in the courtroom imbalance power and imply that since the accuser is by video, that the accused is obviously threatening?

“It is not necessarily an indication to me whether someone is guilty or not guilty or that they committed the offence,” said Judge Wood. “That’s a personal choice they’re making that makes it accessible to them.” 

And the technology is already being put to use in Cabell County. 

We’ve had a divorce hearing use this system and it worked really well.

Lisa Tackett, Director of Court Services for WV Supreme Court

They hope that this will encourage more follow-through cases.

Under the pilot, victims still can go to court in-person, but they will now have the option of going to the YWCA Family Violence Prevention Center or the Sexual Assault Help Center to file a petition remotely with the help of a victim’s advocate. 

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