Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 7. Judicial Responses

Section 5 — What accounts for dispositions?

The research suggests that domestic violence dispositions do not always follow standard sentencing patterns, often not reflecting defendants' prior criminal histories, suggesting that prosecutors and judges disregard prior records that are not related to domestic violence charges. In a large Ohio court study, for example, researchers found no correlation between offenders' prior criminal histories and sentence severity. [11] Similarly and surprisingly, the Toledo, Ohio, study found defendants with prior felony convictions were the least likely to be prosecuted and sentenced. [216] In contrast, in both Quincy, Mass., and Rhode Island, prior criminal history was significantly associated with the severity of sentences. [23, 141]

Victim preference was not found to be a significant factor in sentencing in Quincy, Mass., Everett, Wash., Klamath Falls, Ore., Omaha, Neb., San Diego, Calif., or Ohio. [11, 23, 196] In these jurisdictions, factors associated with more severe sentences varied considerably and included whether there was strangulation, the gender of the defendant, whether the defendant and victim were living together, the size of the prosecutor's caseload, and so on. No consistent patterns were noted from study to study.

Implications for Judges

Sentences should reflect defendants' prior criminal histories as well as abuse histories, as both indicate risk of reabuse as well as general criminality. It is a mistake for judges to consider abusers with prior criminal histories as "first offenders" simply because they have no prior record specifically for domestic violence. (Research basis: Disparate sentencing studies find inconsistent variables including consideration of prior records.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009