Prosecutors may want to force Marta Varlamova, the wife of LA Kings hockey player Slava Voynov, to testify against her husband on felony domestic violence charges – something experts say is unusual, but within state law. Her attorney filed a motion this week to block her from taking the stand.
Deputy District Attorney Frank Dunnick, who is prosecuting Voynov, would not comment directly on the case. But he said in any criminal case, “there is no right to refuse a subpoena.”
“In domestic violence cases, it's very common to have victims who do not want to prosecute, who do not want to testify,” he told KPCC. “But it’s not their case.”
Good prosecutors try to gather enough evidence so they don’t need the victim’s testimony, said CarolAnn Peterson, a longtime domestic violence activist in Los Angeles who is an adjunct professor at the USC School of Social Work. She acknowledged that's not always possible.
Peterson, who trains police and prosecutors on how to interact with victims, says it’s unusual for L.A. prosecutors to force traumatized victims or victims who have reconciled with their husbands to testify. She said she has seen reluctant victims take the stand.
“I’ve seen some women take the stand and just not say anything,” she said. A spokeswoman for the LA District Attorney could not immediately provide statistics on how often the office forces unwilling domestic violence victims to testify.
Peterson says victims regularly want to avoid testifying against their abuser.
Requiring testimony from an allegedly abused woman against her abuser is a hot topic among domestic violence experts.
“If you talk to any of the prominent advocates on behalf of women, this is one of the things they did not want to happen,” said Richard Gelles, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice and nationally recognized expert on domestic violence.
“They don’t want a male-dominated criminal justice system to coerce and control women into testifying,” he said.
He noted domestic violence occurs in not just male-female relationships.
California law, unlike some other states, says victims must testify if prosecutors subpoena them.
“The prosecutor’s duty is not just to the victim in this case,” said USC Law Professor Heidi Rummel. “It’s obviously to public safety and to prosecute crimes that have been committed.”
“If testifying makes the abuser very angry, then they indeed may retaliate,” Peterson said. “It means you have a victim that could potentially be in danger.”
Next month, the judge in the Voynov case hears the motion by his wife’s attorney that she not be forced to testify.