By Nikki Suzani
FRESNO – A wife’s fierce testimony in a domestic violence case seemingly led to what appeared to be some tears in Judge David Gottlieb’s courtroom in Fresno County Superior Court here earlier this week—and a better offer from Deputy District Attorney Andrew Janz.
In March, defendant Joel Luevano allegedly had jumped on his wife and placed both hands on her neck, squeezing tight and strangling her. His wife told arriving officers he slammed her head against the bed headboard two times while her 18-year-old child was in the room.
In July’s preliminary hearing, Janz attempted to put in place a protective order for the wife, preventing Luevano from contacting her, but was met with pushback from the victim herself.
“Had I known that we would be in this situation, I probably would have tried to resolve the situation differently or said things differently to him that wouldn’t have triggered what happened,” she said, standing in front of the courtroom in tears.
She added that at the scene she had told the second police officer to not file charges against him, simply wanting the police presence to calm the situation down. Further, she made it clear that Luevano, who has had no previous domestic violence charges, was not usually like this—he had had a bottle of whiskey the night before and it had affected his judgment.
“My husband had one bad moment and he got caught,” she said. “He isn’t a monster.”
Both Luevano and his wife are essential workers. The two work together at the same hospital, caring for victims of COVID-19.
“We’re not terrible people, we’re not bad people, we’re good citizens of this community. Both my husband and I are frontline workers, and we both have compassion for those who are most vulnerable. If he’s incriminated and sentenced, he’s going to have to report it to his employer, and I’m pretty sure he will lose his job.
“This will entail our children losing our home, and I’m just not sure what is going to happen to our family. Not only that, but working with a hospital, word spreads like fire and people are going to find out. I’m going to be there to take the brunt of the shame as to what happened in our home,” the wife said.
She explained that one of her two children is developmentally delayed and living with the couple. She highlighted how Luevano had served as a true father to the child, whom the wife had from a previous marriage, and had helped lift the child to give her baths and even administered CPR when she had a seizure.
“We are a team, he is my strong arm, my caretaker, my cheerleader, and he is an amazing father,” the wife said. “I believe God placed us together for a reason. Nobody handed us a manual to all of life’s problems, nobody is innocent in this world, we all have done something immoral at some part of our life. I’m asking if you would dismiss these charges—if not for him, then for me and my children.”
Judge Gottlieb did his best to comfort the victim, telling her that she had done the right thing. “I think that, had you not reported it, then in a sense you’re condoning it and then it can continue, and it can get worse,” he said, adding, “I’ve seen when it has gotten worse. The statistics are that a lot of times domestic violence happens four or five times before anyone ever reports it.
“I’m saying that a lot of times this continues on, especially if there’s alcohol involved. Clearly, your husband had alcohol and wasn’t acting in his usual state of mind—it’s a problem…an issue that’s going to need to be resolved because we don’t want you to go into a situation where you have these problems in your family,” added the judge.
Gottlieb then addressed the defendant, asking how he had worked to change his behavior in the months since March.
“I haven’t touched liquor or beer since then,” the defendant said, which Gottlieb seemed to take as a satisfactory answer.
“I think that typically cases involving strangulation are really concerning to the court,” Gottlieb said. “On the flip side, we have the victim here who is not recanting, but is saying all the factors in mitigation. It seems to me that Mr. Luevano is sincere about trying to seek out some help and make some changes.”
Gottlieb suggested that DA Janz consider both the victim’s testimony and the fact that the defendant has no prior criminal history, and instead push the case down to a misdemeanor. This would allow the defendant to avoid jail time and have to do batterer’s intervention and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, while staying with his family.
Then, Gottlieb went on to decide to not impose a protective order, except an order that would prevent the defendant from harassing, hurting, or preventing the victim from contacting law enforcement.
He added the additional clause that the defendant needed to enroll and participate in AA meetings twice a week, continue any counseling, and avoid consuming any alcohol or being in places where alcohol is the chief item of sale.
Janz, after listening to the judge and looking back at the report which showed no clear physical injuries to the victim, said he’d reduce the charges and had transmitted it to the defendant’s lawyer.
Luevano and his wife left the court together, with the next date scheduled for August 12.
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