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SACRAMENTO � San Mateo County District Attorney James Fox wants to put batterers behind bars. So does Carlos Salinas, an attorney for a Peninsula agency that aids domestic-violence victims. But the two men disagree passionately about how to do that. Fox wants the ability to threaten domestic-violence victims with jail if they refuse to testify in the most egregious cases. Salinas, who works for San Mateo’s Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse, wants the threat eliminated. That dispute is playing out at the state capitol, where two usually allied groups � victims’ rights advocates and prosecutors � find themselves at odds. Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, has introduced legislation to bar courts from jailing domestic-violence victims on contempt charges for not testifying against their batterers. Assembly Bill 41 would also strip the court of its power to send a reluctant victim to 72-hour counseling. “It just seems to me that that’s not what we should be putting these women through,” Yee said. “There are other evidentiary procedures where you can tie someone to the abuse, rather than re-victimize someone who’s already been victimized,” Yee said. AB 41 would offer domestic-violence victims the same contempt protections now offered victims of sexual assault. The bill stems from a high-profile case in San Mateo County in which Katina Britt was cited for contempt last year after she refused to testify against an ex-boyfriend charged with breaking into her home and beating her unconscious. A judge issued an emergency stay that kept the woman out of jail. The district attorney’s office eventually dropped the domestic-violence charge and won a conviction against David Gilford for felony assault and burglary. Gilford faces a seven-year sentence, but if he had been convicted of domestic violence, he may have had to serve 12 years. Fox said “coercive contempt” is just one of many tools prosecutors use to persuade reluctant victims to testify. Fox contends his office pursues contempt findings only in the most violent felony cases and that he can’t remember sending a non-testifying victim to jail in his 23 years as district attorney. But taking away the contempt threat would only put a frightened victim in more danger, he said. “The victims are no longer going to be able to tell the perpetrator, ‘This isn’t my choice,’” he said. Supporters like Salinas say the bill would give victims more control of a volatile situation. “You have to trust these individuals to know what’s best for themselves, for their families and for their safety,” Salinas said. But the California District Attorneys Association opposes Yee’s bill. Officials from several domestic-violence victims groups said they know of no statistics tracking contempt cases against victims who won’t testify. Arrests linked to spousal abuse account for almost half of all assaults arrests in California, according to state Department of Justice statistics. In 2003, authorities made 48,854 arrests for spousal abuse. Another 224 were taken into custody on suspicion of spousal rape. And 187 homicides were tied to domestic violence. AB 41 would offer domestic-violence victims the same contempt protections now offered victims of sexual assault. Yee pulled his bill from a policy committee last week because of procedural problems. The assemblyman said Thursday that he wants to talk with prosecutors about their concerns before he brings back AB 41.

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