Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 3. Offender Characteristics

Section 3 — Are they likely to be known to law enforcement already?

Most studies agree that the majority of domestic violence perpetrators that come to the attention of criminal justice or court authorities have a prior criminal history for a variety of nonviolent and violent offenses against males as well as females, and of a domestic or nondomestic nature. For example, a study of intimate partner arrests in Connecticut, Idaho and Virginia of more than 1,000 cases each found that almost 70 percent (69.2) had a prior record and that 41.8 percent of those had been convicted of a violent crime, including robbery and rape. [117]

The percentage of officially identified perpetrators with criminal histories ranges from a low of 49 percent for prior arrest within five years in an arrest study in Portland, Ore. [130], to 89 percent for at least one prior nonviolent misdemeanor arrest for domestic violence defendants arraigned in a Toledo, Ohio, Municipal Court. [216] Not only did most of the abusers brought to the Toledo Court for domestic violence have a prior arrest history but the average number of prior arrests was 14. Similarly, 84.4 percent of men arrested for domestic violence in Massachusetts had prior criminal records, averaging a little more than 13 prior charges (resulting from five to six arrests) — including four for property offenses, three for offenses against persons, three for major motor vehicle offenses, two for alcohol/drug offenses, one for public order violations, and 0.14 for sex offenses. [23] A study of the Cook County (Chicago) misdemeanor domestic violence court found that 57 percent of the men charged with misdemeanor domestic violence had prior records for drug offenses, 52.3 percent for theft, 68.2 percent for public order offenses, and 61.2 percent for property crimes. On average, they had 13 prior arrests. [107]

Even if abusers have no prior arrest records, they may be known to local police. In North Carolina, for example, researchers found from police files that 67.7 percent of the domestic violence arrestees had prior contact with the local criminal justice system, 64.5 percent were officially known by local police, and 48.3 percent had prior domestic violence incident reports. [68]

Studies of abusers brought to court for protective orders find similarly high rates of criminal histories, ranging from slightly more than 70 percent in Texas [26] to 80 percent in Massachusetts. [134]

Implications for Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Given the large overlap between domestic violence and general criminality, law enforcement should carefully check domestic violence suspects' status in regard to outstanding warrants, pending cases, probationary or parole status, and other concurrent criminal justice involvement, including suspect involvement as a confidential informant for ongoing investigations. With regard to the latter, in the event the informant is involved in a domestic violence incident, he should be precluded from working with the department without the authorization of department supervisors. In prosecuting or sentencing defendants for other crimes, prosecutors and judges should look for concurrent domestic violence that was previously prosecuted, is pending, or that may be charged. (Research basis: Multiple studies from jurisdictions across the country confirm these findings, although the extent of prior records may vary, depending on jurisdictional law enforcement, court practices and resources.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009