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


Four communities have vertical prosecution units for domestic violence cases, although the level of cases prosecuted varies across the sites. Some sites target the most serious domestic violence cases, while others focus on less serious offenses because they feel that serious domestic violence cases already receive a lot of attention. In San Francisco, for example, the special unit has always concentrated on felony cases, and assigns priority to the most serious cases. Baltimore's special prosecution unit handles the less serious cases that are not charged as felonies, and felony cases are assigned to other prosecutors. Kansas City and San Diego have taken a different approach by establishing special domestic violence prosecution units in both the City Attorney and County/District Attorney's Offices.

Prosecutors who specialize in domestic violence gain considerable experience in prosecuting domestic violence cases, which have different characteristics from other offenses. Most prosecutors felt that they spend more time talking to domestic violence victims than was typical for other offenses. Victims in domestic violence cases are often uncertain about whether prosecution is a good idea, and need encouragement and reassurance during this process. One person characterized the process as "victim-intense prosecution." All of the units vertically prosecute domestic violence cases, which means that the victim deals with a single prosecutor from arraignment to the conclusion of the case. In addition, the units have victim advocates on staff to provide support to the victim and to help her through the process. In every site except San Francisco, the advocate helps the prosecutor as well as the victim in domestic violence cases and serves as a liaison between the two parties.

Across the sites, prosecutors stressed the difficulty in prosecuting domestic violence cases where the victim is frequently uncooperative and at times hostile. Specialized prosecutors learn to build cases in which victims do not show up, withdraw their charge or change their testimony, and many have developed policies to subpoena victims and, in some cases, to issue body attachments. In one site, several judges noted that prosecutors who specialize in domestic violence are noticeably more experienced and skilled in handling these cases than other prosecutors. They felt that someone attuned to the special circumstances of domestic violence resolves problems with these cases more quickly and effectively.