9th Judicial District takes on Domestic Violence
Domestic Violence is the most prevalent criminal offense in our community. In 2001, there were 494 domestic violence cases prosecuted in the 9th Judicial District; 39 of those cases were felonies. Domestic Violence occurs throughout our society and is no more prevalent in one ethnic, cultural, or socioeconomic group than another. It is sadly ironic that some people will treat the people they profess to love the most in a way they would never treat a friend or co-worker.
The term domestic violence, as it is used in the criminal justice system, can sometimes be confusing to the public. A domestic violence offense is any violation of the criminal law when the victim and the offender are in, or have been in, an intimate relationship. An intimate relationship includes spouses, former spouses, unmarried couples, or persons who are both the parent of the same child. People sometimes think that a domestic violence offense must require extensive injury including bruising, cuts, and broken bones. That is not the case. Violations of restraining orders, harassment, trespass, and false imprisonment are classified by law as domestic violence cases when the victim and offender are in an intimate relationship.
Historically, problems between couples and spouses were generally viewed as “family problems” by law enforcement, and charges were only brought in the most aggravated cases. That method of addressing domestic violence began changing about 15 years ago when we began learning that domestic abuse is frequently cyclical and often escalates in both frequency and degree of injury. In the late 1980s, law enforcement began to take a more proactive approach with domestic violence. Offenders were arrested and prosecuted with the belief that intervention could result in changing the behavior of the offender. Domestic violence offenders can generally be classified as first offenders who commit misdemeanor crimes and repeat misdemeanor offenders or felony offenders.
In the 9th Judicial District, the primary goal is eliminating the recurrence of criminal behavior. For first offenders, we seek to eliminate criminal behavior through education and counseling, not punishment. That is generally accomplished for first offenders who commit misdemeanors through court-mandated counseling by therapists who have been specifically trained and certified in domestic violence counseling. The typical domestic violence counseling program lasts 36 weeks. Offenders are ordered into counseling as a condition of probation. If an offender does not complete the counseling, probation is revoked and jail can be ordered.
While our goal for repeat misdemeanor offenders and felony offenders is to eliminate the criminal behavior, we are more likely to use incarceration as the means to accomplish that goal than counseling alone for such offenders.
Because of the dynamics of relationships where domestic violence occurs, victims frequently have counseling needs of their own. While victims cannot be ordered into counseling, it can be provided to them at no cost through the Crime Victims Compensation program. Victims of domestic violence may apply for assistance with the Crime Victims Compensation Board. In the absence of insurance, the board will generally pay for medical treatment, short term housing, and counseling for victims of domestic violence. The children of domestic violence victims who are victimized by living in a violent home are also eligible for funds for counseling. The Crime Victims Compensation Board is comprised of 3 citizen volunteers and is administered by the District Attorney’s Office. Funds awarded by the board come from fines imposed on all offenders as a part of their sentences. The D.A.’s Office then seeks restitution for the cost of the award from the offender as part of the sentence to reimburse the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
The consequences for committing an act of domestic violence often extend beyond the sentence the court may impose. Convicted offenders who are immigrants may be deported. Offenders of domestic violence offenses involving weapons or assaults will forfeit their right to possess firearms and be subject to federal prosecution should they be found with a firearm.
In an effort to mitigate some of the consequences of an act of domestic violence while maintaining the goal of intervention and counseling, the District Attorney’s Office has established a domestic violence diversion program. First offenders who commit domestic violence offenses which do not result in bodily injury are eligible for the domestic violence diversion program. The diversion includes education and limited counseling about domestic violence. Upon successful completion of the diversion program, the case is dismissed and the collateral consequences of a domestic violence are avoided. From the prosecution perspective, the goal of intervention and counseling has been met and the criminal conduct modified. Repeat offenders are not eligible for diversion.
The prosecution of domestic violence is often a difficult thing for all involved. But we firmly believe that it is only through intervention that we can help eliminate this needless cause of death, physical and emotional injury, and broken homes. To ultimately succeed in ending domestic violence in our homes, we must all be proactive. When we become aware that a family member, friend or co-worker is a victim of domestic violence, we all have a responsibility to intervene. Victims can be referred to agencies that can help. We must all work together to end the tragedy of domestic violence in our communities.
For those wishing more information about domestic violence, please contact the Victim/Witness Assistance Program at the District Attorney’s Office at 970-945-8635
Ninth Judicial District
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