I. Former NYC Public Defender Reveals DV ‘Savior Complex’

By David Feige

Upstairs, AP-10 handles exclusively low-level domestic violence and sex cases. It is one of my least-favorite places in criminal court. Measured on an hourly basis, more injustice is perpetuated in AP-10 than in any other place in the criminal courthouse. AP-10 showcases what pissed-off people do to one another after having had the misfortune of having sex: slapping, punching, phone breaking, and decorating the neighborhood with posters such as:

For Child Support
Kareem Williams
Last seen fucking some whore bitch he pick up….

If there is a lesson to AP-10, it is that the absurdly blunt instrument of criminal prosecution is just not up to the task of unraveling the complicated motives and pathological interpersonal dynamics of vindictive people and screwed-up relationships. Every day, AP-10 hosts a parade of people using protective orders as weapons in child custody battles or property disputes, making false allegations against ex-lovers or their new partners, or blackmailing a current lover into being faithful or forking over money. And though there are plenty of real victims and legitimate cases, overall AP-10 is a viper pit of spurious allegations and twisted motivations. In such an environment, calm, reasonable prosecutors and insightful, deliberate judges might be able to competently sift through twisted facts and outrageous allegations.

Unfortunately, though, both the assistant district attorneys who populate the part and most of the judges who sit in judgment of the cases see themselves as saviors of battered women and abused children. While understandable, this savior complex makes an already bad situation far worse, particularly in cases with reluctant complainants or sparse facts. Just as politics makes it nearly impossible for all but the bravest judges to grant reasonable bail, the politics of domestic violence makes AP-10 a supercharged and dangerous place to be for victims (particularly those who may want to patch up their relationships) and defendants who are often actually innocent.

Source: David Feige. Indefensible: One Lawyer’s Journey into the Inferno of American Justice. New York: Little, Brown, and Company. 2006. Excerpted from Chapter 10. Reprinted with permission.