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

Published June 2009

Chapter 7. Judicial Responses

Section 14 — What makes specialized domestic violence courts different?

A 2004 study found 160 jurisdictions across the country with specialized domestic violence courts. The majority of these courts had the following traits in common: (1) effective management of domestic violence cases, coordinating all of the cases involving the relevant parties and integrating requisite information for the court; (2) specialized intake and court staffing for domestic violence cases; (3) improved victim access, expedited hearings, and assistance for victims by court staff, often assisted by related specialized, vertical domestic violence prosecution units; (4) court processes to ensure victims' safety (e.g., court metal detectors, separate waiting rooms, specialized orders and victim referrals; (5) increased court monitoring and enforcement of batterer compliance with court orders, often exercised by specialized probation supervision units; (6) consideration of any children involved in the domestic violence; and (7) enhanced domestic violence training for judges. [132]

Pretrial Monitoring of Defendants

In the specialized domestic violence court in San Diego, Calif., a bail amount of $10,000 surety or $1,000 cash is standard for each misdemeanor domestic violence charge. In Everett, Wash., $10,000 is the typical bail, without a cash alternative. Increases in the holding of defendants pretrial has been shown to increase plea bargains at arraignment. In San Diego, 46 percent of defendants were found to plead at arraignment. [196] After establishment of a specialized domestic violence court in Milwaukee, 20 percent plead guilty before they were assigned a trial date. [103, 104] Increased restrictions on defendant-victim contact have also been found to increase the likelihood of conviction. [103, 104]

Decreasing defendant defaults may also be associated with reduced reabuse. A study of Cook County's four misdemeanor domestic violence courts found that no-show defendants had a significantly greater number of new arrests than those who showed in court (0.78 vs. 0.46). [107] This is consistent with research that found that defendants who flee the abuse incident before police arrive are twice as likely to reabuse than those who remain at the scene of the incident. [23]

As a result of enhanced pretrial processing after the establishment of the specialized court, convictions through guilty pleas increased and trials decreased in the Brooklyn (Kings County), N.Y., felony domestic violence court, while the conviction rate remained the same. [164]

Implications for Judges. Judicial attention before trial to address the risk to victims posed by alleged abusers will result in quicker case resolution and decrease reabuse by defendants who fail to show for trial. (Research basis: Multiple studies from multiple jurisdictions.)

Enhanced Court Dispositions

Court dispositions in specialized domestic violence courts tend to be more substantial than elsewhere and more rigorously enforced. In Everett, Wash., and Klamath Falls, Ore., defendants were more likely to be ordered to attend batterer intervention programs and drug counseling and to be ordered to abstain from drugs and submit to testing. Furthermore, the batterer intervention programs increased in length and cost. At these and other sites with specialized court programs, defendants were more likely to be ordered to have no contact with their victims. [196] In terms of enforcement, in Milwaukee, a study revealed that after implementation of the specialized domestic violence court system, there was a dramatic increase in probation revocations (27 percent compared to the previous 2 percent). Most revocations (70 percent) were for technical violations such as failure to attend batterer intervention programs. [104]

In Massachusetts and Cook County, Ill., specialized domestic violence courts reduced deferred prosecutions and increased the percentage of defendants who were sentenced to jail time. Court conviction rates in the latter rose from 50 percent to 71.4 percent; the likelihood of jail increased significantly from 6.7 percent to 31.3 percent. [107]

Implications for Judges. Judges presiding over specialized domestic violence courts appear more likely to impose more intrusive sanctions against convicted abusers. (Research basis: Disparate studies demonstrate a correlation, although specialized domestic violence courts may offer judges enhanced dispositional options, including specialized probationary supervision programs for abusers. These specialized courts may also have judges who are better informed about domestic violence than other judges.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009