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Prosecution Strategies in Domestic Violence Felonies: Telling the Story of Domestic Violence, Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 1998
16 pages
Publication Series
Based on an analysis of the trial strategies used by prosecutors in 40 domestic violence cases in Iowa, this study recommends a prosecution strategy most likely to yield convictions on the initial charge.
Trial transcripts were used to identify the prosecution strategies used in the 40 trials, which involved both fatal and nonfatal domestic-violence felonies. The trial transcripts suggested that prosecutors were generally aware of the likely defense to be used, and they structured their prosecution strategies to anticipate these defenses. Defense themes and strategies included self-defense or provocation, attempting to downgrade the offense to a lesser charge, diminished responsibility, and the raising of reasonable doubt that the defendant even committed the offense. Various defense strategies included attempting to manipulate common public misconceptions and myths about domestic violence. In countering such defense efforts to build on jurors' conditioned misconceptions of the dynamics of domestic violence, prosecutors must assist jurors in understanding the dynamics of domestic violence by "telling the story" of domestic violence. In domestic violence cases, the incident by itself is not an adequate unit of information for jurors. Context information about the relationship or prior abuse completes the story and can dispel some myths about domestic violence. The use of expert testimony would be the most direct method for "educating" jurors about the dynamics of domestic violence. The testimony of experts who have researched the phenomenon of domestic violence can help the jury to understand the context of the larger abusive relationship and the rationale behind the victim's actions. 26 notes

Date Published: April 1, 1998