I’m an animal lover and am extremely active in animal rescue efforts. My biggest passion is spreading the word about Trap-Neuter-Return programs (TNR). TNR is a program where feral cats are trapped, spayed/neutered, and returned to their home outside to live out their lives without reproducing. It’s the most humane way to control the feral cat population. This is the time of year known to those in animal rescue as “kitten season,” a time when huge numbers of kittens are being born to stray and feral cats. Somebody recently sent me an interesting article on what will happen to many of these kittens, and now I’m passing it onto you. Many municipalities are starting to pass ordinances that could protect ferals from the fate described in the article, but there is still much work that needs to be done to protect feral cats and kittens.
This is the final post in a series examining DUI of lawfully prescribed medication. In Part Two, I told you about a woman who came into my office, frustrated because her attorney wanted her to enter into ARD for DUI charges despite the fact that it would ruin her career and she maintained she was innocent. Her driving was perfect, she had no alcohol in her system, and the only drugs found were lawfully prescribed antidepressants and migraine medication. Part Two ended with a denied continuance, a rejected plea deal and a new DA.
Immediately upon taking the case, the new DA began demanding that we provide her with my client’s medical records. We had already provided a note from her treating physician stating that all the meds were prescribed and he never saw any indication of side effects or abuse, so I refused to ask for the medical records. They weren’t necessary in light of this letter and the fact that everything was within therapeutic range, a clear sign that they weren’t being abused. Also, my client didn’t want a DA going through all her personal psychiatric and PCP treatment. When I refused to obtain the records, the DA started issuing subpoenas to the pharmacy. What blew my mind was that the pharmacies turned over the records without any consent from my client. How they thought this didn’t violate HIPAA privacy rights, I’ll never know.
At the time of the trial, the DA asked for a continuance so she could obtain an expert opinion on my client’s impairment. Despite previously denying my request for the same thing, the judge granted the DA’s continuance request. After that, the DA continued to issue subpoenas, and when the doctors wouldn’t turn over the records she wanted because they didn’t have consent from the client, she went over everybody’s head and got a search warrant under the guise that she wanted to see if the client was abusing her meds.
In the meantime, the DA tried to get me to provide her the name of my client’s doctors and pharmacy and also obtain all of her medical records and supply them to her expert. To me, this was a huge invasion of my client’s privacy and there was no way I was handing that information over. Plus, the DA had no right to force my client to go out and get evidence that could be used against her; it’s unconstitutional. When I again refused to request the information she wanted, she filed a Motion to Compel with the court and asked the judge to force me to get her the information. Thankfully, the judge saw how unconstitutional this was and denied the motion. However, he did grant yet another continuance for the DA so she could continue her crusade against my client and obtain more medical records and an expert report.
Because of the time all this took, we were able to secure an expert who wrote an opinion for us. When I had a conversation with him, he told me he thought it was absolutely criminal that they were coming after my client and that he just didn’t see any evidence of impairment. He couldn’t understand how the case even got this far. We submitted his report and supporting documents to the DA and she passed that on to her expert.
About a week later, the DA called me and said that her expert would not be able to opine that my client was impaired by her medications. Therefore, they were withdrawing the DUI charge. Instead of just letting the entire case go, though, she told me they’d be amending the charges to careless driving and a headlight infraction. I told her there was no way my client was pleading to careless driving, as the dash cam clearly showed her driving was perfect. The DA said she would have to review the tape again; she did, and agreed with me they couldn’t prove careless driving, but she was going to keep the headlight infraction. My client agreed to plead guilty to that charge.
A couple weeks ago, she entered her plea. After all that, she received a $25 fine. But the damage has already been done. My client no longer has any faith in our justice system. She had to spend thousands of dollars on attorney and expert fees. This has been on her record all this time while she’s been applying for jobs. She lost out on at least one because they saw the charge when they ran a criminal background check. Her medical privacy rights have been violated. And none of this even begins to account for the emotional toll this has taken on her and her family. And for what? All because she took legal medication as prescribed to her by her doctor. She eventually received justice, but how many out there don’t?
This is Part Two of a three-part series examining the rise in prosecutions for DUI of lawfully prescribed medication. In Part One, I explained the law and how it is that someone can take medication as prescribed and still face a possible DUI charge. Now, it’s time to look at a specific case I recently handled where I firmly believed my client was innocent.
Last year, a very scared and frustrated young woman came into my office, charged with a first offense DUI of a controlled substance after being pulled over for a faulty front headlight. She’d never been in trouble before and her attorney was pushing her to enter into ARD rather than fight the case. She maintained that she had done nothing wrong, as the only thing found in her system after a blood test was lawfully prescribed antidepressants and migraine medication. Plus, even ARD would cost my client her job and ruin her career. She wanted to fight and prove her innocence rather than admit she drove impaired and enter into ARD, as her attorney kept recommending. Because I’d recently taken on these types of cases as my pet project at my firm, I immediately told her I could help and became her attorney.
I looked at her blood results and saw that all the medications she was on were well within therapeutic range, meaning she was taking them as prescribed and obviously not abusing them. Then I looked at the synopsis from the officer and there was a clear disconnect between what he said he observed and what was in her system. I watched the dash cam video, and it showed my client driving perfectly. It also showed that she didn’t do great on the SFSTs, but it looked more like she just wasn’t taking them seriously and wasn’t really trying. She did tell me that she thought the whole thing was a joke, so the video jived with what she had said. However, according to the officer, she was swerving and weaving and performed extremely poorly on the SFSTs, showing numerous signs of impairment. I told my client she should hire an expert witness who specializes in pharmacology so that we could have testimony explaining that the meds she was on wouldn’t produce anything the officer observed. She agreed.
At her first hearing, I asked the judge for a continuance to give us time to hire an expert and provide an expert report. The judge shockingly denied my request, informing me that he didn’t care that this was a first listing and that time to obtain an expert report is not a valid reason to grant a continuance. He then forced us to trial a few weeks later.
When we showed up for trial, we had worked out a plea deal with the DA. We didn’t have time to get the expert and my client was afraid of what would happen if we went to trial. However, when she tried to enter her plea, the same judge that had denied the continuance rejected the plea deal, again forcing us to trial. After this, the trial was rescheduled and a new DA took on the case. That’s when things became disturbing.
The behavior of the DA defied all standards of logic and professionalism. It very quickly turned from a case of seeking justice to a crusade against an innocent young woman. In Part Three, I’ll tell you about the months of maltreatment my client was forced to endure at the hands of an over-zealous prosecutor. Stay tuned!
This is Part One in a series of blog posts dedicated to the rise in prosecution for DUI of lawfully prescribed medication.
You’re suffering from depression and anxiety. You go to the doctor and are prescribed medication to help treat your symptoms. You take the medication exactly as prescribed, taking only the dose your doctor told you to. You’re driving home from work one night and are pulled over. The officer tells you he saw you swerve and asks you to get out of the car and perform some field sobriety tests (SFSTs). You do, because you have nothing to worry about – you haven’t been drinking or taking any illegal drugs. The officer decides he saw signs of impairment and arrests you for suspicion of DUI. You cooperate and let him take a blood sample, but you don’t expect to ever be charged with anything. After all, you’ve done nothing wrong, right? Wrong. Much to your surprise, a few weeks later you receive a summons in the mail, charging you with DUI of a controlled substance. How is this possible? You had no alcohol, no drugs, just the medication your doctor prescribed you. How could you possibly be charged with DUI?
There’s a disturbing trend going on in Pennsylvania. Since the breath test challenges shed light on the deficiencies of Breathalyzers, the majority of police departments have moved to blood testing. What we as defense attorneys are now seeing as a result is a sharp rise in DUI charges when the person has nothing but lawfully prescribed medication in their system.
My theory for why this is is that before, the Breathalyzers could only test for alcohol; if it came back that the person was drinking or wasn’t above the legal limit, they let the person go. Now, the police can use the blood to test for more than just alcohol; they almost always will test it for drugs as well. Because of this, they’re able to see if a person has anything at all in their system, including prescription drugs. Where they wouldn’t have been able to charge a person because the Breathalyzer didn’t show alcohol, they can now charge the person because PA DUI law allows for charges against people who take prescription or over-the-counter medication.
Under section 3802(d) of the Motor Vehicle Code, a person can be charged with DUI of a controlled substance. Section 3802(d)(1) is the per se subsection. What this means is that if a person has any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in their system, they are guilty of DUI; it makes no difference is the person is impaired by the substance. Just its presence is enough. Schedule I controlled substances include the following:
Schedule II and III drugs also fall under this subsection. They are treated a little differently, though. If a person has a Schedule II or III drug in their system and they do not have a valid prescription for that drug, then like Schedule I drugs it is enough that the drug is in their system; it is not necessary to show impairment. However, if the person does have a valid prescription, the state must prove that the drug was in the person’s system and they were impaired by it. Many of the drugs prescribed for chronic pain and ADD are Schedule II substances. Examples of Schedule II drugs are:
• Oxycodone (OxyContin)
Schedule III drugs have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule I and II drugs. They include:
• Tylenol with Codeine
• Anabolic steroids
Section 3802(d)(2) states that a person is guilty of DUI if they are under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs so that their ability to safely drive is impaired. In other words, if you have a Schedule IV or V controlled substance in your system, the DA has to prove that it’s present in your blood AND that you’re impaired by it. Examples of Schedule IV and V controlled substances are:
• Cough medicines like Robitussin
Essentially, what all this means is that even if you are properly taking lawfully prescribed medication, you may still be charged with a DUI. Even if you’ve only taken certain over-the-counter medications, you may still be charged with a DUI. The trend in Pennsylvania is to charge drivers with DUI of these drugs even when there is no or minimal alcohol in the person’s system. It makes counties a lot of money. The key word is “impairment” which is often completely subjective. Many local police departments do not have (working) dash cam systems, so convictions are often based on their subjective opinion.
In Part Two of the series, I’ll discuss a case I recently handled in which a young woman was charged under this section after being pulled over for a faulty headlight. The only thing in her system was antidepressants and migraine medication. Stay tuned!
I’ve made no secret about how important I think it is for any criminal defense attorney who handles DUI cases to learn all they can about SFSTs. I’m a practitioner and instructor of SFSTs, and the knowledge I use everyday to question police officers is extremely valuable. I can use the information to not only develop issues for suppression, but I also use the training against officers at trial to disprove their opinion that my client is driving impaired. I always find it disheartening when attorneys are so quick to encourage their clients to plead guilty in a DUI case without even exploring the possibility that the SFSTs administered can be used to their benefit. My firm is known for taking cases to trial, and we always question officers about the administration and results of SFSTs at all stages of the case, from preliminary hearing to suppression to trial. If you’re an attorney practicing DUI, I highly suggest you receive the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) training in SFSTs.
Lucky for you, Billy Reynolds over at Brighton Lewis and Anthony Palacios at IDS Consulting will be presenting the updated NHTSA DWI Detection/SFST Practitioner course May 16-18, 2014 in St. Louis, MO. This course is great not only for people who have no training in SFSTs, but also for those attorneys that have already been through the training, as the 2013 manual has enough updates to teach a 6-8 hour course.
There are many benefits of taking this course with Billy and Anthony. There will be not 1, but 2 national DWI consultants teaching the course. You’ll receive hands-on training, as the course involves a live alcohol workshop on both Friday and Saturday. You’ll also get the benefit of hearing guest speakers, networking, and receiving the 2013 NHTSA DWI/SFST manual along with other training materials. If that wasn’t enough, the course is being held in a fantastic location – the Ameristar Resort and Casino in St. Charles, MO.
The course fee is $750 and includes all the above training, continental breakfast all three days, lunch Friday and Saturday, and so much more. You’ll receive plenty of CLE credits to make it worth your while. For more information, click here. And remember, this training could make the difference between winning and losing a case!
When I started law school in 2007, I knew that the legal field was still one dominated by men. According to the American Bar Association, at that time women only accounted for 30.1% of the over 1,000,000 lawyers in the country. Only 17.9% of partners at private law firms were women, and only 16.6% were general counsel at a Fortune 500 company. The numbers were just as low for female judges at the federal level. Now, 7 years later, women still only account for 33.3% of all lawyers, 19.9% of partners, and 21.6% of general counsel at a Fortune 500 company. What I’ve learned in my time as a practicing attorney is that many of the men in the field, especially the older men, and even some of the women, believe the field is a man’s world and do not treat the women as equals. Here are just a few of my experiences.
There’s one county that I absolutely hated going to when I first started litigating because nobody believed that I was an attorney. They have a very old school way of thinking, and even the tipstaff who check people in and run the courtroom are of an older generation. So, when I first started going, I would attempt to check in and would have to stand there and convince people I was an attorney despite the fact that I was in a suit, carrying files, and pulling a rolling suitcase behind me. When I would give the staff my name, the most common response was “oh, are you a court reporter?” No, I’m an attorney, I’d reply, and once they got over their shock they’d change their attitude and be much more professional with me. Despite the same staff working the court every time I went down there, it still took at least a dozen trips to that court before they stopped asking me that question and actually recognized me as an attorney. Another time, in that same county, I went into the courtroom, suit on and files in hand, and tried to walk to the front and speak with my incarcerated client. The sheriff stopped me and said I wasn’t allowed up there, although I saw a gaggle of male attorneys talking to their clients. I asked him if he was denying my client his right to speak with his attorney, and the male sheriff shook his head and said “oh sorry, I thought you were his girlfriend” and let me through. Apparently I’d been demoted from court reporter to defendant’s girlfriend.
In another county, I’ve built a very professional and friendly working relationship with the district attorneys there. So, during a day of status hearings for pending cases, the DA called my case near the top of the list and ahead of many of the older male attorneys. When I returned to my seat I overheard two male attorneys complaining about how quickly I’d been called when I was clearly younger than them. As I gathered my things I jokingly said it must be that I’m there too much. One of them said “actually, no, I think it’s just because you’re blonde.” If I’d been a young man called before this guy, do you think he’d say something like that?
My first time in another county (which, by the way, is very small and backwoods), I wasn’t sure how they ran their hearings so I stopped and asked one of the men who had just been having a friendly conversation with another gentleman. He refused to help me and said “what do I look like, a Public Defender?” and walked away. I assumed he didn’t think I was an attorney and thought I was a pro se defendant trying to get free legal advice.
These are just some of my favorite interactions with male attorneys. But these types of experiences don’t stop with attorneys. I’m definitely treated differently by clients than the male attorneys in my office. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve covered hearings for one of the male attorneys in my office and been treated incredibly rudely and disrespectfully by the client, only to be told by the attorney I was covering for that they’d never had that problem with that client. I’ll do consults with potential clients who will then tell me they’d like to speak to one of the male attorneys before hiring our firm, or that they want one of the other attorneys to represent them just because I’m a woman. On the other hand, I have one client who hired me just because I’m a female because he said I’m a very good looking young woman. In his mind, we’ll get at least one male on the jury who will side with me just because of my looks, which means he’ll get a not guilty verdict despite the horrible facts of his case.
Thankfully, the PA Bar Association has a very active Commission on Women in the Profession on which I serve. Its purpose is to advance and empower women in the legal profession. Through that committee I was assigned a female attorney mentor, Lisa Benzie, who is just as dedicated to empowering women, especially women lawyers, as I am. She’s encouraged me to attend things like the PBA Women in the Profession retreat, the Dauphin County Bar Association DIVA award presentation, and become more active in the committee. This has certainly given me a new outlook on being a female working in a man’s world. I no longer take it personally and almost laugh when things like this happen because it is so ridiculous.
Once men see me in action and watch what I’m able to do as an attorney, I always get more respect and a completely different attitude than before. Obviously, I’m still treated differently and probably will be for quite some time. I have a strong support system that I can vent to, but more importantly, I have teammates who are helping change the legal profession from a man’s world to one of equals.
Recently, I represented a client in a jury trial. I’ve done a lot of jury trials before, but this was my first time in front of this particular judge. Every county handles their jury trials differently, and every judge within every county handles jury selection differently. When selecting a jury, we conduct what’s called “voir dire,” which is essentially questioning the panel of possible jurors. I’ve selected juries in several different counties in front of different judges, and one thing I always do with my panel is tell a story to humanize myself and illustrate to them what we mean when we ask them “can you be a fair and impartial juror?” This time, though, I was hit with a peculiar admonition by the judge that I never expected.
Everybody in our country has the right not only to a trial by a jury of their peers, but to have a jury that is fair and impartial. When I conduct the voir dire, one of the things I’m looking to see is if there is anybody on the panel of potential jurors who would not be able to remain fair and impartial for any reason. Everybody has biases based on their own life experiences, so I always try to explore those and strike for cause anybody who would not be able to put aside their biases and render a fair and just verdict.
It’s important to humanize yourself when conducting voir dire. Jurors need to know that you’re not just some big bad defense attorney (or plaintiff’s attorney). They need to like you. They need to trust you. The way I do that is to always start or end voir dire with a story about myself and the type of jury I couldn’t sit on. I do this because it not only makes me more endearing to the jury, but it puts into simple terms what I mean when I ask them, could you be fair and impartial? The story I tell is as follows…
The point of voir dire is not to find the jury we think is most likely to rule in our favor or help us win a case; rather, the point is to find people for whom this is the RIGHT jury. Let me give you an example of what I mean by that. I’m extremely active in animal rescue. I volunteer a lot and am passionate about saving homeless and abused animals. In fact, I have two rescue cats that I love, and if anything happened to them, I’d be devastated. So, if I was called into jury duty and the defendant was charged with animal cruelty, I couldn’t sit on that jury. Because of my experiences with animal rescue, I would want that person to be guilty and be punished for what he or she did. I couldn’t put my bias aside, so it wouldn’t be the right jury for me. With that in mind, does anybody feel this wouldn’t be the right jury for them?
By the time I’ve told this story (which, by the way, is 100% true), the judge and the DA have asked numerous questions, including specifically asking if the jurors can be fair and impartial. But this story inevitably leads to at least one or two people, sometimes more, who raise their hands and say it’s not the right jury for them. They almost always volunteer why, and I can usually strike them for cause. I’ve now been able to connect with the jury, plus I’ve identified jurors who shouldn’t be on my jury but otherwise may have been picked had I not illustrated what we mean by fair and impartial.
At my recent trial, as I have in all my other jury trials, I told this story. I’ve never been stopped by a judge before or told that it’s not something I should be saying. As always, I had another person raise their hand and tell me they didn’t think they could be on this jury. Afterwards, the DA and I were called up to the bench for what I thought was our final challenges to people we thought should be excluded from the jury. However, as soon as the DA and I got to the bench, the judge immediately asked the DA if she wanted a new panel of jurors. We were both completely confused as to why she would need a new panel to choose from, until the judge began reprimanding me.
The judge informed me that he’d better never again hear me tell a jury that I could not be fair and impartial. According to him, as an attorney, I’m an officer of the court and it’s therefore my job to remain fair and impartial. Telling potential jurors that I couldn’t sit on a jury for a case is completely inappropriate, because it makes them think it’s okay to admit that they have biases and shouldn’t be picked. Mind you, all of this was done in front of the jury. When he was done, he just stared at me. I think he was waiting for me to apologize or say he was right or something. I just stared back, mainly because I wasn’t sorry, and I didn’t think he was right.
I had two problems with what he was saying. First of all, just because I’m an officer of the court doesn’t mean I’m not human. Developing biases through life experiences is natural. It’s why the Disciplinary Board gives attorneys an out when confronted with a client they can’t adequately represent because of these personal beliefs. It’s why the Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to recuse themselves in cases where they have personal biases they can’t put aside. For this judge to tell me I’m required to be fair and impartial at all times in every case, simply because of my chosen profession, astounded me.
Second, when he said it would make jurors think it’s okay to admit their biases, I almost said to him, well, it is okay. That’s the point of voir dire. We question jurors about their life experiences and preconceived notions for the sole purpose of figuring out who is able to sit on a jury and fairly assess the evidence presented to them. If they’re told a story that helps them see they can’t do that, why is that a bad thing? They should be encouraged to admit this. Otherwise, we could just do away with the voir dire process, draw names out of a hat, and hope for the best.
Although this will not stop me from using this strategy when selecting a jury, I’ve learned this is something I can’t do in front of this judge. I’ll continue to tell my story in front of every judge that allows me to. It’s a great way to personalize myself to the jury and discover who I definitely don’t want determining the guilt or innocence of my client.
So why does everyone keep talking? The 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination is quite possibly the most well-known of all the Miranda warnings. In every crime drama on TV (and in real life, for the most part), the very first right that is read to people being arrested is “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you…” Despite knowing this, I’d be willing to venture a guess that 90% of the people who call me volunteered information to the police that ultimately affected their case negatively. What should you do if you come into contact with the police?
First, and most importantly, BE QUIET!!! There is absolutely no reason for you to give any more information than the basics. No matter how many questions the police ask you, you’re never required to answer them. The police may try to scare you into talking, but don’t take the bait. Now, I’m not saying you should act like a jerk or be completely uncooperative with the police; admittedly, cooperating with police can work in your favor when it comes to things like ARD applications, plea deals, and trying to get charges dropped altogether. But cooperation and admission are two very different things.
Consider the following example: We’ve all been pulled over when driving. And I do a lot of driving. On average, I drive about 3,000 miles every month. Statistically, I have a better chance of getting pulled over for a traffic infraction than the average person, and yes, I’ve been stopped on my way to court or some other location more times than I’d like to admit. The first thing a cop always asks is “do you know how fast you were driving?” I’ll tell you what, when I see that cop car with his radar gun, the first thing I do is look at my speedometer, so yes, yes I do know how fast I was going. Have I ever admitted that to the officer? Absolutely not! My response is a simple, no, sorry. I have all my information in a spot in my car where I can quickly find it and hand it over to the officer so that any communication time is limited. I’m polite and cooperative, but I never volunteer any information that could possibly be used against me in the future. Why hand the officer what he needs to give me a citation?
The scenario I see most often is people volunteering their drinking habits when pulled over for a possible DUI. This drives me crazy! At least once or twice a week I have a client call and tell me that when the officer asked if they’d been drinking, they actually admitted it. Their reasoning is that they wanted to be honest with the officer and thought their honesty would help in avoiding charges. I’m going to let you in on a little secret – this honesty will probably NEVER help you avoid charges. What it will do is give the officer probable cause to arrest you. A simple admission may not be enough by itself, but the standard observations we then see are the subjective ones that are hard to disprove, like odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and bloodshot, watery eyes. They will also use any (even minimal) bad driving to come up with probable cause. They will also make you do Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs), which a lot of people can’t satisfactorily complete even sober.
Essentially, when you start making admissions, you start giving the officer what they need to prove their case against you. This is true in all kinds of cases, from summary disorderly conduct all the way up to assault and even more serious charges. DON’T DO IT!! Exercise your right to remain silent! Without your admissions, it makes it more likely for me, as your attorney, to be successful in winning your case. I can’t tell you how many cases could have been won at suppression or even trial had the client just stopped talking.
What’s the lesson here? To become a belligerent jerk with the officer? Absolutely not. The lesson is to provide minimal, basic, required information only. Limit any communication with the officer. You shouldn’t lie, either. If a police officer asks you questions that could help them prove a case against you or that would be an admission of something potentially illegal, don’t answer it. You’re not required to. Be polite, be cooperative, but be quiet. Make the officer prove his case, don’t prove it for him. When you don’t have criminal charges against you, or they can’t prove their case, you’ll thank me.
This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post. In Part 1, I broke down the facts of this case. In case you missed it, after learning of the sexual abuse allegations against him, Woody Allen filed for custody of the adopted and biological children he had with Mia Farrow, including Dylan Farrow, his alleged sexual assault victim. Now, I’ll discuss the decision of the judge in that custody case as well as my own thoughts.
The judge in the custody case addressed all the facts and issued a very thorough 33-page decision. He found that Woody had done nothing more than provide financial support for the children. Woody didn’t know basic details of their everyday lives. He never dressed or bathed them, didn’t know their health history, didn’t know who their doctors are, didn’t even know their pets’ names or which children shared a bedroom. He had even less knowledge of their siblings and repeatedly differentiated between adopted and biological children. When Woody was asked why he should be granted custody, he rambled on for 11 pages worth of transcript and stated that he was a good father and Mia had intentionally turned the children against him.
The judge noted that Woody admitted he never considered the consequences of his relationship with Soon-Yi and that the therapists testified that he still doesn’t understand that what he did was wrong. He isolated her from her own family and disregarded the impact it would have on her, Mia, and the other children. The judge went on to say that Woody’s only response to Dylan’s claims of sexual abuse was to attack her mother without any credible support for his claims. As the judge stated, “his trial strategy has been to separate his children from their brothers and sisters; to turn the children against their mother; to divide adopted children from biological children; to incite the family against their household help; and to set household employees against each other. His self-absorption, his lack of judgment and his commitment to the continuation of his divisive assault, thereby impeding the healing of the injuries that he has already caused, warrant a careful monitoring of his future contact with the children.”
On the other hand, he found that there was no credible evidence to support the claim that Mia coached Dylan or that she wanted revenge for his relationship with Soon-Yi. He believed that Woody’s attempts to classify Mia as a “woman scorned” were an attempt to distract from his “failure to act as a responsible parent and adult.” He was also less certain than the team at Yale-New Haven that Woody did not sexually abuse Dylan. He noted that the team consisted of social workers and a pediatrician, that they destroyed their notes, sanitized their report, never saw the parents interact with the child, found there was no abuse without supporting data, and that they exceeded their role in the observations they made. The judge further stated that while we may never know what happened with Dylan, it’s clear that Woody’s relationship with her was grossly inappropriate and that measures needed to be taken to protect her.
Dylan recently renewed her allegations of sexual abuse. After Woody received a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Golden Globes, she issued an open letter to Hollywood, wondering what they would do if it was their daughter who’d been abused and questioning how the industry can reward and praise someone who has done something so vile.
Woody responded with his own statement, again accusing Mia of coaching Dylan and trying to get back at him for his relationship with Soon-Yi. Although Woody claimed that he had taken and passed a lie detector test, the truth is he refused to submit to one administered by the state police. He instead paid his own expert to conduct the test. Woody also claimed that he had been cleared of these allegations in the 1990s. Again, this isn’t the whole truth. After a thorough investigation, the prosecutor on the case chose not to pursue charges. Although he believed that there was sufficient probable cause to arrest Woody, he felt that Dylan was too fragile and did not want to put her through the stress of the trial, especially after all she’d gone through in the custody case.
All of this brings two questions to mind. First, are these the facts you’ve heard from the media? I know the stories I’ve seen are very different. The media is reporting as if this is old news and they don’t appear to be taking it very seriously. In fact, had I not done my own digging into this case, I never would have known about the scathing decision by the judge in the custody case or that he hadn’t actually been cleared in the past. Why? Why is the media so eager to sweep sexual abuse allegations under the rug? Why does it seem they just want us to forget about it? I understand people are innocent until proven guilty, and no one knows for sure what happened, but I find it disturbing and appalling that we as a society are so quick to dismiss a victim’s claims of sexual abuse. It’s even worse in a case like this where there seems to be evidence supporting the claims. The media is no better, as they’re quick to jump on the “woman scorned” bandwagon.
The second question is, what does this say about Hollywood? The allegations had NO effect on his career. Not only that, but his relationship with his girlfriend’s young adopted daughter had no effect. Actors continue to vie for roles in his movies and celebrate him and his accomplishments. The Lifetime Achievement Award and the speeches and standing ovation that came with it were just gross…there’s no other way to put it. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Dylan, if the accusations are indeed true, to watch an entire industry honor the man that violated her?
Obviously Woody has never been convicted of anything. He has every right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, I don’t think we should all be so quick to judge the victim and praise the abuser (allegedly). We should err on the side of caution when these types of claims are made. And the media needs to report ALL the facts, not just the sensational ones. There are many lessons to be learned from this whole story. But at least now you know the facts and can draw your own conclusions.
*****Because of the complexity of this story, this will be a two-part blog post. Part one will focus on the facts of the case. Part two will look at the legal decision from the 1990s, the recent renewal of the sexual abuse allegations, and my thoughts on the story.*****
I may be a criminal defense attorney, but I’m just as passionate about victim advocacy, especially victims of domestic and sexual violence. So, the story of Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen caught my attention. I know there are a ton of blog posts out there that discuss the case and I’m kind of late to the game, but I originally didn’t plan on writing about the topic. However, after reading what’s been published, I couldn’t stay silent any longer. The way this was reported, I assumed it was a new incident. The media made it seem as if Dylan is just now reporting alleged sexual molestation some 20 years after it happened. Woody Allen released a statement (which various outlets, including TMZ, carried) acting as if the allegations had been thoroughly investigated 20 years ago and he’d been cleared. It was reported as if Dylan had been coached by a woman scorned, Mia Farrow, who was upset because he left her for her own daughter (and Dylan’s sister). This isn’t exactly the case.
Mia Farrow and Woody Allen had somewhat of a complicated relationship. Mia entered the relationship with three biological children and three adopted children from her first marriage and another child she adopted after the marriage ended. Woody did not have any interest in the children and the two essentially lived separate lives so that Woody would not need to be involved in the children’s lives. Mia later adopted Moses and Dylan but Woody was not involved in the adoptions. A few months after Dylan’s adoption, Woody suddenly became very interested in Dylan and spending time with her. He still was not involved with the other children.
A few years later, Mia became pregnant with their son, Satchel. Although this was Woody’s child, he had no interest in the pregnancy. After the birth, Woody intensified his relationship with Dylan and Mia began expressing concern about his behavior towards her. She voiced concern that Woody looked at Dylan sexually, read to her in his bed while in his underwear, and allowed her to suck on his thumb. Several witnesses testified at the custody trial that Woody focused on Dylan and excluded the other children.
In the fall of 1990, Mia had Dylan evaluated by a therapist, Dr. Coates. Mia expressed her concerns about Woody’s behavior. Dr. Coates understood the concern and indicated that the relationship was “inappropriately intense.” Dylan began therapy with another doctor, Dr. Schultz. Around that time, Woody adopted Dylan and her brother, Moses.
Although he never had interest in Mia’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi, before, Woody began hanging out with her more in 1990. In 1991, he began speaking with her daily as she was lonely and unhappy at college. In January 1992, Mia discovered six nude pictures of Soon-Yi at Woody’s home. Mia then learned of their sexual relationship. Of course, Mia was extremely angry and hurt and began proceedings to vacate the adoptions. Over the next few months, Mia gave Woody a family picture with skewers through the heart of the children and a knife through her heart, defaced and destroyed pictures of Woody and Soon-Yi, and called Woody a child molester (referring to Soon-Yi). In the summer of 1992, Soon-Yi was fired from her job as a camp counselor for spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone with Woody.
On August 4, 1992, Woody went to Mia’s Connecticut home to visit the children. Mia had previously told her babysitter, Ms. Groteke, that Woody was not to be left alone with the children. For a period of 15-20 minutes Ms. Groteke was unable to find Dylan or Woody. During a different portion of that day, another babysitter observed Woody kneeling in front of Dylan with his head on her lap, facing her body. Dylan was sitting on the couch staring vacantly ahead. Dylan was observed later that day without underwear on under her dress.
The next day, the babysitter told Mia what she had seen. Mia asked Dylan about it, and Dylan confirmed the incident, adding that when she tried to get up Woody reached under her and grabbed her buttocks. Mia videotaped Dylan’s statements because she believed that her concerns about Woody weren’t being taken seriously by the therapists. Mia then called her attorney who told her to take Dylan to the pediatrician. It took a couple visits before Dylan repeated the story. It was also alleged that Woody sexually assaulted her in the attic.
Dr. Coates was notified of the accusation, which he in turn relayed to Woody and the New York City Child Welfare Administration. Woody filed for custody of Dylan and Satchel 7 days later. Dr. Schultz, who was on the payroll of Woody, first told child welfare that Dylan had started to tell her about the abuse but she needed more time to explore the subject with her. However, Dr. Schultz told others that Dylan never told her she was sexually assaulted.
Yale-New Haven Hospital was asked to evaluate Dylan to see if she appeared to be a victim of sexual assault. They concluded that Dylan had not been sexually assaulted. However, this conclusion is questionable, as the 3 people on the panel destroyed their notes prior to drafting their report, the doctor actually issuing the opinion never even spoke with Dylan, and all but one person on the panel refused to testify under oath about their findings.
After he learned of the allegations, Woody filed for full custody of Dylan, Moses, and Satchel. The judge in that case issued a 33-page decision which I will discuss in part 2 of this blog post. For now, you can see how Woody may have groomed Dylan to become his victim. Also, although Soon-Yi would say she was a willing participant, Woody’s relationship with her was inappropriate and his behavior predatory. It’s not surprising, though, that Woody would target two children who had been having behavioral and social problems. This is fairly common in sexual abuse and domestic violence situations. Check out part 2 where I’ll detail the judge’s findings and impressions of both parents as well as address Woody’s treatment by Hollywood and the recent media coverage of the case.