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Key Findings

Criminal Interventions

Many victims rely on law enforcement strictly as a mechanism to stop violence and do not intend to leave their abuser nor want him incarcerated.

Law Enforcement: Highlighting the need for improved criminal justice response, fatality reviews revealed 75% of murder-suicides involved previous calls to law enforcement; however, perpetrators were charged in fewer than a third of these incidents. A continuum of responses was noted in reviewed cases with calls to law enforcement, including responses with no police action taken, responses with a warrant referral, and responses with a warrant issued.

CHART: CALLS TO LAW ENFORCEMENT

CHART: PROSECUTION OUTCOMES

Prosecution: It is paramount prosecutors and judges understand that mental health concerns and domestic violence are dual issues and should be treated as such. In reviewed murder-suicide cases, it appears the existence of mental health concerns may have tempered justice with regard to domestic violence charges. Only 32% of reviewed cases pursued by prosecutors proceeded as charged, a reduction from the 41% which proceeded as charged in reviewed homicide cases.

Using mental health as a mitigating factor for reduction in sentencing or dismissal of a Family Violence Act charge in favor of mental health assessments and counseling will not necessarily reduce the likelihood of abuse in the future.

CHART: PERPETRATOR’S CRIMINAL HISTORY

 

Courts: Lack of past domestic violence convictions or a violent criminal history, which are often used by the judicial system as a factor in sentencing, should not be viewed as an indicator that lethal violence is less likely in domestic violence cases where suicide factors are also present. Research shows that abusers who flee are less likely to be arrested and reviewed murder-suicide cases indicate only 33% of abusers had a violent criminal history prior to the lethal incident.

Only 20% of murder-suicide perpetrators had prior domestic violence convictions pertaining to the same victim, lower than the 30% of perpetrators in reviewed homicide cases. The reduction in cases proceeding as charged through prosecution naturally results in fewer cases which involve probation and parole; 28% of perpetrators in reviewed murder-suicide cases were involved with probation or parole, as opposed to 48% of perpetrators in reviewed homicide cases.

Take Action

Law Enforcement Agencies, Judges, Prosecutors, Victim Witness Assistance Programs

  • In cases where the victim recants or seeks to dismiss an action, refer the victim to a domestic violence program for safety planning, counseling and resources. However, do not mandate contact or participation.
  • Minimize how often a victim has to tell her story, particularly when she has just experienced a traumatic event.
  • Partner with your domestic violence program to obtain training on the dynamics of domestic violence and lethality indicators, impact of trauma, identifying mental health issues and intervention strategies.
  • Obtain training on mental health and suicide to assist in identifying needed interventions for suicidal perpetrators.
  • Develop a response model or protocol within the Court to address abusers who display passive mental health status identifiers; this can include making statements such as “I can’t seem to catch a break” or “I am feeling hopeless and drained.”

Law Enforcement Agencies, Courts, Prosecutors

  • In communities where the caseload is large enough to warrant it, specialized units and dockets should be created using national models for detectives, prosecutors and judges. This approach should focus expertise, improve interagency cooperation and provide a system that’s better prepared to hold offenders accountable.
  • Learn more about other Georgia Domestic Violence Courts in “Domestic Violence Court Best Practices Guide” created by the Judicial Council — Administrative Office of the Courts and the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.

Law Enforcement Agencies

  • Document complete reports for all family violence calls, including calls during which there is no probable cause to arrest, as mandated.
  • Ensure all parties involved have a private interview and are separated for questioning to ensure neither party can see nor hear the other.
  • Rather than refer a victim to seek warrants for the arrest of her abuser, take warrants yourself in any circumstance where probable cause exists. This not only reduces the level of danger to the victim, but also increases likelihood the case will be successfully prosecuted due to your experience in evidence documentation and collection.
  • Develop “gone on arrival” protocols like those implemented in the Blueprint for Safety to ensure officers are following up on cases where the abuser fled the scene prior to law enforcement response. These protocols should include both provisions for swift apprehension of an abuser who fled when a warrant was issued, and follow-up with parties in circumstances where the abuser fled and no probable cause was determined. Access Blueprint for Safety information at http://praxisinternational.org/blueprint-home
  • Develop specialized protocols for response to domestic violence incidents in which mental health is a factor, like those developed for Crisis Intervention Teams (CITs) by the partnership between the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness. Information about training can be accessed by visiting http://investigative.gbi.georgia.gov/crisis-intervention-team
  • If departmental protocols for mental health response exist, incorporate screening for domestic violence lethality indicators into the protocol.

Magistrate Courts

  • When a victim requests a warrant application, escort her to victim services for safety planning and information regarding safety implications filing a warrant may present. If the best practice model of escorting the victim is not appropriate, provide a warm referral to victim services before the warrant is filed.

Prosecutors, Victim Witness Assistance Programs

  • Provide contact information to the victim for all staff who will be handling the case, but identify a point person who will be the best contact.
  • Mandate completion of Family Violence Intervention Program for abusers prior to dismissal or reduction of charges in plea negotiations.
  • Despite the usual efforts to reduce their time in court, in those cases where children are also primary victims, consult them about their desire to participate in the court process.
  • Avoid making statements to child victims like “This is already hard enough on your mom.” Remarks similar to those may imply to the child victim that trauma they have experienced is less important than that of the adult victim.
  • Use evidence-based prosecution techniques to increase viability of a case, even when a victim recants, minimizes what took place during the incident, or otherwise does not participate in the prosecution process.
  • Work collaboratively with domestic violence programs to implement measures to hold offenders accountable and increase victim safety.

Judges

  • Do not require the defendant/abuser to receive notice in pre-warrant hearings in domestic violence incidents, which is allowed in Georgia law and minimizes safety concerns for victims in your court.
  • Pay particular attention to suicide indicators and safety issues, which require assessment throughout the pre-warrant process.
  • Employ consecutive sentences for abusers who commit crimes during multiple incidents. Allowing concurrent sentences sends a clear message to perpetrators that they can get away with committing crimes, free from accountability.
  • Carefully consider the private, repetitive and escalating nature of domestic violence when setting bond, rendering sentences and imposing post-sentencing sanctions. Look for risk indicators in every case, including those appearing to be lower-level violence.

Probation Departments, Community Supervision

  • Expedite enforcement of technical violations completed by violent offenders.
  • Obtain training on the dynamics of domestic violence and lethality indicators, victim behavior, impact of trauma, identifying mental health issues and intervention strategies.