HUNTINGTON, W.VA. — Sonya Bailey's husband might have walked away with a two-year sentence, or less -- had he not driven into Kentucky. Last week, Christopher Bailey became the first person convicted under the federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which made crossing a state line to assault a spouse or domestic partner a federal felony.
The law is so new that many prosecutors and judges are unfamiliar with its provisions, which call for penalties of up to 20 years for permanent disfigurement or life-threatening injury and up to a life sentence if the victim dies.
Mr. Bailey kept his wife in the trunk of his car while he drove aimlessly across West Virginia and Kentucky. He faces up to life in prison for kidnapping and up to 20 years for disfigurement. (Mrs. Bailey remains in a coma.)
The law also makes protection orders valid across state lines for the first time. The provisions ''filled a gaping hole that had been in the law before,'' says Julie Goldscheid, a lawyer with the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Organization for Women, in New York.
Without such provisions, Ms. Goldscheid says, a woman who tries to leave an abusive husband by moving to another state is sometimes victimized again. ''It happens frequently,'' she says. ''A woman leaves her batterer, moves to another state to start a new life -- and finds she won't be able to enforce her protection order.''