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

Published June 2009

Chapter 7. Judicial Responses

Section 4 โ€” What are current abuser sentencing practices?

Just as prosecution rates vary widely, so does sentencing of domestic violence perpetrators, even though the vast majority of domestic violence defendants are prosecuted for misdemeanor assaults. Although the United States Civil Rights Commission and National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges have opposed the practice [57, 214], many jurisdictions routinely divert abuse cases. In the Brooklyn Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Court study of 9,157 cases in 2002, of those pleading or found guilty, 51 percent received a conditional discharge, 35 percent received jail, 7 percent received probation, 5 percent were ordered to complete community service and 1 percent were fined. [31]

In Chicago, a little less than a third were given conditional discharges, 24 percent received probation or court supervision, and 23 percent were sent to jail (including time served pending trial). [107] While in Massachusetts, where three-quarters of the suspects (74.1 percent) were charged with some form of assault and/or battery, a quarter of the defendants were diverted, a quarter placed on probation and 13.5 percent imprisoned. [23] In Ohio, of those found guilty, almost 70 percent were incarcerated, with the largest number incarcerated between 30 and 45 days, although 18.8 percent were incarcerated 150 to 180 days. [11] The number of domestic violence offenders sent to Ohio prisons increased nine-fold between 1991 and 2005. [225] In three different states with specialized prosecution programs, 52 percent to 76 percent of convicted abusers were incarcerated. [196]

If placed on probation, supervision ranges from unsupervised to intensive, with a variety of special conditions. Most defendants in the specialized prosecution courts along with jail were placed on probation with a condition of no victim contact, undergoing batterer treatment, drug and alcohol abstinence and testing, attendance at fatherhood programs or women's groups for female offenders, mental health evaluations, mandatory employment and restrictions on weapons. [103]] A study of over a thousand domestic violence arrests across three states, Connecticut, Idaho and Virginia, found that, of those convicted, a little less than half (46.7 percent) were ordered into either anger management or batterer programs. [117]

By statute, Cal. Penal Code ยง1203.097, California batterers must be sentenced to three years probation; criminal protective orders must be incorporated to protect victims from further violence, threats, stalking, sexual abuse and harassment; the defendant must complete a batterer program of no less than a year, make a minimum $200 payment, and perform a specified amount of community service as well as attending substance abuse treatment as needed, pay restitution and, in lieu of fine, pay up to $5,000 to a battered women's shelter. However, a 2005 study revealed widespread variance with the law in practice by allowing defendants to plead guilty to nondomestic violence crimes such as assault or trespass. [149]

Date Created: June 5, 2009