Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Criminal Justice System

10/01/1996

Thanks in part to the Range Intervention Project and the many-year commitment of RWA, and thanks in part to the efforts of people working within most of the criminal justice and court sectors, most parts of the criminal justice system on the Range have adopted policies and practices to improve their response to domestic violence cases. All law enforcement agencies on the Range have a policy of mandatory arrest for probable cause, most call RWA to come and help the woman when an arrest is made, most are good on using the "checklist" (the new protocol developed by RIP).

Several respondents noted that the courts typically take the presence of domestic violence into account in a variety of types of cases; in ordering batterers into intervention programs for both civil protection orders and criminal charges; in assigning the same treatment and protection conditions for probation even if the case has been plea-bargained down to a "disorderly conduct;" and in being willing to "violate" an offender who fails to comply with court orders, including, in rare instances, sending him to jail for repeated or egregious noncompliance (such as renewed violence while subject to a protection order). The court system in Minnesota is "unified" for everything but violations of city ordinances, so a judge hearing a domestic violence case has access to information about the parties' involvement in other civil and criminal cases. Some of the judges use this information, and some do not.

The biggest "hole" in the system, at this point, is the prosecutors in several offices throughout the Range, who have so far been resistant to the efforts of RIP. The prosecutor for St. Louis County is willing to treat domestic abuse as a serious issue, and has also reached an agreement with the Hibbing city prosecutor to take over these cases when they occur within the city of Hibbing. But people we interviewed in both RWA and other criminal justice agencies indicated that other local prosecutors are much too willing to reduce the charges to "disorderly conduct." This means that for second and subsequent offenses, offenders cannot be charged with a gross misdemeanor because their record will never show a "prior" for domestic abuse.