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Factors Related to Domestic Violence Court Dispositions in a Large Urban Area: The Role of Victim/Witness Reluctance and Other Variables, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2000
257 pages
This research study helps fill the knowledge gap about what happens with domestic violence cases in which alleged batterers are arrested, once they leave law enforcement agencies, using data from the Cincinnati, Ohio, urban area.
Most research on domestic violence and the criminal justice system focuses on the police response to victims and batterers and relatively little research has attempted to understand how courts operate in response to battered women and their batterers. Many prosecutors have failed to prosecute arrested batterers, and judges have frequently failed to convict them. Accordingly, the current study was conducted to identify factors affecting misdemeanor domestic violence cases in the Cincinnati urban area, cases in which batterers were arrested by the police, resulted in dismissals, acquittals, or convictions in the courts and how these cases were processed. Key to the study was awareness of victim/reluctance to testify against batterers. Data were collected from pretrial services files; interviews with prosecutors, judges, and public defenders; content analysis of court transcripts; and detailed interviews with and surveys of domestic violence victims. Multivariate analyses showed that the following variables were never significantly related to whether the defendant was found guilty: the defendant's age; the defendant's race; the defendant's prior criminal record; whether the defendant kicked or hit; whether the defendant stabbed, cut, or used a gun; whether the victim was subpoenaed; the availability of 911 tapes; whether the police testified; and the judge's sex. The most important variable predicting whether the defendant was found guilty was the number of times the prosecutor met with the victim. Results showed that study participants could benefit from more education and awareness about the dynamics of domestic violence, 80 percent reported victim behavior as an obstacle to conviction of batterers, court professionals overwhelmingly reported disdain and even distrust of victim advocates, and the decision to publicly prosecute a domestic violence case involved a calculated allocation of court resources. Recommendations for reducing victim/witness reluctance to testify are offered, and policy and research implications of the findings are discussed. The major recommendation is to have someone within the system whose job it is to explain the system to victims and to work to make victim interaction with the system effective. Policy implications include training court professionals, giving more attention to processing of cases without victim cooperation, creating victim support projects, and adding more prosecutors. References and tables

Date Published: June 1, 2000