Oregon court says ripping out clumps of someone's hair isn't necessarily assault

Apparently, pulling a person's hair from their scalp doesn't cause "substantial pain" or "physical impairment"

By Jenny Kutner
Published October 24, 2014 3:39PM (EDT)
                           (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-150571p1.html'>Andrey Burmakin</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Andrey Burmakin via Shutterstock)

A three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed an assault conviction this week of a man who was charged with ripping out clumps of his wife's hair during a December 2011 domestic dispute. Derrick James Mitchell, who was charged with fourth-degree domestic violence assault, felony coercion and misdemeanor harassment, was cleared of the assault conviction after the Court of Appeals determined that the state did not have proof of "physical impairment" or "substantial pain."

According to the Oregonian, Mitchell's wife declined to testify that she suffered "substantial pain" during the May 2012 trial, which likely could have altered the appellate court ruling; earlier upheld assault convictions have relied on victims' courtroom testimony that they experienced physical pain (of any kind) in the wake of an attack. Mitchell's son, however, testified against his father, making a case that indicates his stepmother would have suffered pain, at the very least, and possible the "physical impairment" required by law for an assault conviction:

The teen testified that he was settling into bed on the night of the incident when he heard his stepmother yell, “Ouch. Stop it!” a couple of times and noises “like something hitting the wall.”

The next day, when the boy asked his stepmother what happened, she said Lewis pulled out her hair and pointed to some clumps still on the floor, according to the appeals court’s summary of the case.

A 12-person jury found Mitchell guilty after his lawyers' motion for acquittal was denied, and he served a sentence of nearly two years in prison. While the appeals court reversed the assault conviction, it let the coercion and harassment convictions stand. So, essentially, with regard to the assault charge, the court ruled that without "proof" that having clumps of her hair forcibly ripped out of her head while she reportedly shrieked in protest had caused the wife "substantial pain" -- proof that would have come in the form of her testimony -- then her husband was not guilty of assaulting her. It isn't clear why Mitchell's wife was reluctant to testify, but here's a theory: Like many victims of domestic violence, she might have been hesitant or downright afraid to testify against her attacker, a man to whom she was legally wed and perhaps even still loved. But that's just a hunch.

(h/t Above the Law Redline)

Jenny Kutner

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Abuse Assault Court Of Appeals Domestic Abuse Domestic Violence Oregon