violence court has been designed as a showcase judicial ghetto
for dv cases, and, like all ghettos, it's been stripped of its
most essential functions and powers.
in many other counties, our domestic violence court was established
in response to intense criticism of our criminal justice system's
handling of domestic violence cases. Also, as in many other counties,
our domestic violence court is a sham, an elaborate dog-and-pony
show designed to dupe the public and to preserve the dumping of
victims, as much or worse than before.
Here are the defects
of domestic violence court as set up in our county and many other
counties around the country:
- Like many domestic
violence courts, ours only deals with misdemeanor cases. Defendants
come into the court at arraignment and must enter a plea of
"guilty" or "not guilty". At this initial
point, dv court is no different than any other court. The similarity
ends there. If the defendant enters a plea of "not guilty",
the criminal case is immediately kicked out of dv court and
sent back to a standard municipal court for adjudication. If
the defendant pleads "guilty", the dv court then sets
a schedule for the now convicted perpetrator to report back
again and again to the dv court for monitoring and supervision
of his probation.
other words, dv court doesn't really function as a court at all.
It doesn't decide guilt or innocence in domestic violence cases,
doesn't weigh evidence, examine witnesses, prosecute defendants,
doesn't undertake the rigorous search for truth that is the core
work of a court, and it doesn't conduct trials. In dv court, except
on rare occasions, the victim's voice and testimony isn't heard.
Our dv court is nothing
more than an inflated probationary baby-sitter for convicted defendants.
Granted the dv court has the power to throw the guy in jail if
he doesn't abide by the conditions of his probation. But overall,
our dv court has been designed as a judicial ghetto for dv cases,
and, like all ghettos, it's been stripped of its most essential
functions and powers. Precisely those functions and powers which
victims most need to be wielded on her behalf.
This eviscerated dv
court ghetto, like many other dv courts, has the following disastrous
consequences for victims and their cases:
right from its origin, dv court delivers an outrageous insult to
dv victims by putting their cases into a structure designed for
sensitivity to defendants accused of 'victimless crimes'. (Then
to top it off, the same judge who ran our drug court for years was
assigned to run the dv court which he did for years.) Furthermore,
dv offenders, different from drug offenders, are not intimidated
by the threat of being sent to a standard criminal court. Quite
the contrary, as we've seen, dv offenders and their defense attorneys
are well aware that most judges do not like these 'family' cases
clogging up their criminal courts to begin with. In most judges
minds, as in the minds of so many criminal justice officials, the
immense powers of the criminal system were never meant to be wielded
on behalf of women who get a little over-disciplined for not having
dinner ready on time.
- When the defendant
pleads "not guilty", and the criminal case is reassigned
to a standard municipal court, the cases are handled back in
muni court by a junior prosecutor and by muni court judges who
are now more unfriendly to these cases than before there was
a dv court. In addition to their previous virulent biases against
dv cases, these judges are now also resentful at being strapped
with cases they feel should be being handled in the dv court.
So even worse than before, these muni court judges have a tendency
to get rid of the dv cases as quickly as possible - all too
frequently by outright dismissing the cases, no matter how strong
the evidence, no matter how egregious the offense, no matter
how long the criminal history
- Not surprisingly,
it took defense attorneys in our county less than five minutes
to figure out what dv court meant for their clients, the domestic
violence defendants. Defense attorneys began immediately explaining
to their clients 'how sweet it is'. Plead "not guilty",
they strongly advise their clients, get your case moved back
into muni court, and you've got a great chance of walking free.
In fact, the gutted functioning of our dv court has assured
that the most intractable, hard core dv offenders have the greatest
chance of going free.
The hard core
offenders never take responsibility and never plead "guilty"
no matter how strong the evidence, so they all end up in muni
court. Dv court, where all the domestic violence resources are
located, is left to deal mainly with the lightweights. The victim
of a hard core batterer and her case are often alone in muni
court because the victim counselor, and the victim sensitive
prosecutor, judge, and support staff are all tied up in dv court.
So you can see, our dv court is designed to dazzle the eye while
the dirty work of dumping these cases goes on hidden away in
- Also, not surprisingly,
the victims do not get the picture. Everything about the dv
court is couched in the most slurpy victim-supportive language
about how great dv court is for victims. And, like the public,
the victim drops her guard, and is more easily made to go along
with whatever officials recommend. What officials recommend,
of course, is usually in the officials' best interest, not the
victims'. And the officials' interest is that these cases go
away as quickly as possible - back to muni court and out the
- The origin of our
dv court structure is also instructive. Our dv court was modeled
on our drug court - in much the same way as other dv courts
around the country are modeled on a drug court. Now drug court
was established as a 'soft court' because misdemeanor drug crimes
here are treated under the category called 'victimless crimes'.
Thus drug court offers the drug defendant the opportunity to
plead "guilty", to avoid the heavy handed sentencing
given drug crimes in regular court, and to be hand held by a
sympathetic drug court judge through the probationary period.
And there are other
problems with our dv court than just it's defanged ghetto structure:
if a victim is outraged that her case was rejected for filing, the
victim counselor shows the case to the DA, and the DA says there's
not enough evidence. The victim counselor without further ado goes
back to the victim. "We're so sorry, there's not enough evidence."
It doesn't matter that there are photos, witnesses, and a perpetrator
confession on video. "Let me help you with a safety plan,"
says the advocate. "Have you thought about moving out of town?"
Dv court was created to be a smooth running sham and the hiring
of the counselor was done accordingly. And woe to the victim who
thinks she's talking to an advocate who will fight for her rights
to justice and protection.
- Not only does the
county lose a judge to his new role as a stage prop in the sham
of dv court. There is also a prosecutor, a defense attorney,
and a probation officer assigned to dv court to hype the show.
The reality, however, is that most of their time together in
dv court is spent doing the work that used to be handled by
just one lone probation officer. "Now, Mr. Jones, did you
go to all your counseling sessions this month", the judge
asks? "Did you visit your children?" "Did you
refrain from beating your wife"?
One competent, self-respecting prosecutor in our county who
was recently assigned to dv court began yelping and squawking
about the assignment the moment she understood it for the sham
it was. And she didn't stop yelping and squawking until she
got herself reassigned out of there. There was no way she was
going to squander her talents for a year or two as a stage prop
in our district attorney's dog-and-ponny show dv court. She
was hired as a prosecutor, and she insisted on working as a
- Also assigned to
our dv court is one victim advocate, or dv counselor as she's
called in our county. This victim counselor is the crown jewel
of our dv court sham. On paper, she's employed by our local
dv shelter, but her employment arrangement is under contract
to the DA, the man to whom she, the shelter, and their grant
money are beholden. Similar to victim advocates in many other
counties, such arrangements are a profound conflict of interest
for the advocates who, on the one hand, are supposed to be fighting
for the rights of the victim and, on the other hand, are dependent
on approval of criminal justice officials for their bread and
butter. Instead of serving as advocates for the victims, they
have melted down into a doctor/nurse relationship with the prosecutors,
or, as in our particular case, into a trained parrot riding
around on the DA's shoulder.
And one more thing:
Given the dedication
of our dv court to its service as an inflated probationary baby-sitter,
you would think they would at least perform this function well.
You would expect that when perpetrators skip their counseling
or renew their attacks on the victim, that dv court would swiftly
and firmly flex the one muscle it has, and throw the convicted
offender in jail. Wrong! These reoffenders are given break after
break after break. At the very best, from time to time there may
be a violation of probation hearing, and even then the most likely
outcome is to extend the perpetrator's probation by another couple
of months. Again, and again, and again. Violation, after violation,
here's the feminist analysis. The patriarchal criminal justice system
wields immense powers. And it has no intention of wielding these
powers on behalf of women, especially when it comes to liberating
women from the violence which is essential to maintaining patriarchal
systems. In fact, the criminal justice system lags far behind the
rest of society in terms of its willingness to change. Despite the
enactment of ample legislation for responding to gender based violence,
despite increasing demands from women that this violence be stopped,
the criminal justice system remains determined to withhold their
powers for enforcing these changes. Systematic dumping of rape and
domestic violence cases, systematic denial of justice and protection,
and systematic collaboration with violence against women, continues
as before. The main thing that changes in the criminal justice system
is that their sophistication for chumping the public becomes more
and more elaborate. And in our town dv court is Exhibit A.
To be sure there have
been improvements in individual departments and in units here and
there. But for every improvement, there are as many or more powerful
reactionary forces in the criminal justice system that have become
activated and organized to make sure things stay as they were.