American Judges Association

"The Voice of the Judiciary"

Promising Practices

Domestic Violence Courts

            IMPLEMENT A SPECIALIZED DV DOCKET OR COURT.   Even without additional funds, a court can schedule all DV cases for a particular day(s) or half-day, depending on the volume of cases.  Courts can work with their local DV service providers or shelters and invite them to be present to assist victims.  The same invitation may be extended to local batterers intervention programs (BIP) so representatives may be available to advise the defense.  A specialized docket allows more time to listen to victim impact statements and address, without interruption, other issues unique to time-intensive DV cases. 

            APPOINT COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENDANT.   Appointing counsel at the arraignment safeguards the defendant’s rights, especially at a time when prosecutors are specially trained to target batterers and courts are issuing strict conditions of pretrial release the defendant must obey.  Appointment of counsel ensures that we provide a fair forum for justice.  In our efforts to better protect victims and make our courts more open and sensitive to their needs, we must not appear to or demonstrate improper “favoritism” in our fact finding.  Appointing counsel for the defendant provides someone who can explain to the defendant conditions of release, is cost efficient, avoids delay, and avoids having the defendant cross-examine his or her alleged victim at trial.  If a Defendant elects to hire private counsel, that attorney can substitute in in place of appointed counsel.  Defendants should be required to fill out a financial declaration or application.  If not indigent, the Defendant should be required to contribute towards or reimburse the court or other funding agency for the cost of attorney services.  Consider contracting with the Public Defender’s Office or private bar for specific defense attorneys who are knowledgeable about DV issues and law. 

            MONITOR CONDITIONS OF PRETRIAL RELEASE.  If possible, assign a probation officer(s) or other designated individual or agency to monitor conditions of pretrial release.  Set up a system to act swiftly and consistently for any reported violation.  Lax enforcement of conditions of release may increase danger by giving the alleged victim a false sense of security.  Delay in responding to bond violations communicates to the Defendant that he or she can “get away” with violent behavior. 

            FAST TRACK CASES.  Long pretrial delays leave a victim vulnerable to coercion, threats and harassment, financial abuse and physical violence. 

            ASSIGN PARTICULAR PROBATION OFFICER(S) TO DV CASES.  Designated probation officers can receive training in the dynamics of domestic violence, including lethality assessment, and educate themselves, then advise the court, as to resources in the community available to protect victims and hold batterers accountable.  Probation officers assigned to DV cases can do safety planning with victims, work with the local DV shelter and BIP, and closely monitor cases to ensure compliance with court orders.  Some jurisdictions use home visits to the victim and defendant to make sure the court’s orders are followed and the victim protected.  Probation officers should maintain communication with the victim throughout the period of defendant’s probation. 

            IF YOU USE DEFERRED SENTENCING, USE A PROGRAM PATTERNED AFTER ONE WITH PROVEN SUCCESS.  Attached is a model deferred sentencing program.  Washington County, Oregon, reports it is successful. 

            CONDUCT FREQUENT JUDICIAL REVIEWS.  Batterers need to know that they are being monitored.  Unlike substance abuse which may be seen as a health issue where relapse is expected, battering is a behavioral issue.  “Relapse” should not be expected nor tolerated.  If the court orders the defendant to complete a BIP or go to jail and the defendant does not go to treatment, there must be a consequence.  The earlier any violation is detected, the more effective the sanction.  Use reports from the BIP to which defendants are ordered to convey a coordinated effort to hold defendants accountable.  Consistency – a swift and certain response – is key.  The defendant (and others) will see that the court takes DV seriously and will hold abusers accountable for any violent conduct or violation of probation. 

            JUDGES SHOULD EDUCATE THEMSELVES ON DV LAW AND ISSUES.  Seek out and attend seminars and trainings on DV issues.  We are proud to point out that the AJA has gone on record that we will offer at least one program on some aspect of family violence at every annual conference.  Judges should learn about the nature and dynamics of DV including tools for assessing lethality.  Judges should know the programs to which we refer batterers.  Visit the program, establish a relationship with the program manager, know its policies.  Batterers will look for a weak link in the system and a judge’s lack of knowledge of a BIP may be used as that weak link.  Know the DV service provider or shelter in your community.  Ask for their assistance in educating judges and others about the dynamics of DV from the victim’s perspective. 

            BE AN ACTIVE PART OF THE COORDINATED COMMUNITY RESPONSE TO DV.  As judges, we have the power to bring necessary people and agency representatives to the table. 




For more information contact:

American Judges Association
P.O. Box 8798
Williamsburg, VA  23187-8798
(757) 259-1841
(757) 259-1520 - fax

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