CHELSEA, ME — A battered woman was arrested by police in an effort to force her to testify against her abuser. She was detained without charges, locked in a cage, and a bail was set. The startling practice of arresting the victim is actually legal in Maine, thanks to a seldom used statute.
Jessica Ruiz, 35, was the alleged victim of domestic violence at the hands of 45-year-old Robert Robinson, Jr., in an April incident. On September 17, police arrested Ruiz to make sure she testified against Robinson.
“They parked down the street, they pounded on her door and they arrested her,” explained Lisa Whittier, Ruiz’s appointed lawyer, according to the Kennebec Journal.
Ruiz was taken to jail, subjected to a warrantless pat-down search, locked in a cage with a bail set at $5,000. She was locked up without charges, with two other women, for 17 hours.
While she was detained, officers served Ruiz with two subpoenas, ordering her to come to two separate trials of Robert Robinson on domestic violence and witness tampering.
Whittier called the incident “outrageous conduct on the part of the state.”
Maeghan Maloney, district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, was elected last year after campaigning on a zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence. She defended her decision to arrest the victim, saying “I would rather have to explain why she was arrested than why she was dead.”
“I know there’s a lot of people who disagree with it, but I don’t know how else to keep the victim safe other than to take every step that I possibly can to prosecute it,” Maloney said to WMTW.
But Maloney’s apparent concern for Ruiz’s well-being did not placate the distraught victim or civil libertarians. Zachary Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, was shocked at the arrest, remarking, “If the concern was for the witness’ safety, it seems there should be other ways of keeping her safe.”
The practice appears to be legal in Maine, under Title 15 §1104, regarding Material Witnesses.
If it appears by affidavit that the testimony of a person is material in any criminal proceeding and if it is shown that it may become impracticable to secure the presence of that person by subpoena, the court may order the arrest of that person and may require that person to give bail for that person’s appearance as a witness…
The feigned concern for Ruiz’s safety might have been a excuse all along. Robinson was already incarcerated, has a long criminal history, and was facing multiple charges.
“There’s no possibility that Mr. Robinson could have gotten out of jail,” said Lisa Whittier. “He’s being held on a probation hold and he’s being held on another charge, so they were not protecting her safety.”
“She has never said she wouldn’t testify,” explained Whittier. “She was always willing to testify and she would have honored a subpoena, had she been served a subpoena.”
Even Robinson’s lawyer stuck up for Ruiz. William Baghdoyan, who represents Robinson, assured reporters that Ruiz’s testimony was not the only thing keeping Robinson incarcerated. “If the domestic-violence charges disappeared, he’s not going anywhere,” Baghdoyan said. “He’s not a danger to anyone. He will continue to remain incarcerated.”
“My interest in this is professional, as a former prosecutor and a member of the Maine bar,” Baghdoyan continued. “She’s gone through unnecessary trauma. She is a very nice young woman, and she has been treated shabbily.”
Witness safety can be a real concern in cases like these. But there are other, more appropriate methods of protection. Slapping a traumatized victim in handcuffs and then into a jail cell is not an appropriate act of compassion. It is emotionally stressful, damages the arrestee’s reputation, interferes with their job and family life, among other inconveniences that come with being involuntarily locked in a cage.
Maine residents should tell their state representatives that Title 15 §1104 needs to be repealed. It is inexcusable to treat victims this way.
Maeghan Maloney is district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties. She is responsible for locking up Jessica Ruiz without charges. Provide feedback to her.
District Attorney’s Office
Phone: (207) 474-2423
Website: District Attorney’s Office