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Criminal Justice

Domestic Violence Courts

The trend in the justice system toward the establishment of specialized courts remains controversial with vocal adherents and detractors.  In Criminal courts: Structure, Process, and Issues (2012) Champion, Hartley, & Rabe remark that the main objective of specialty courts is “to find alternative methods of dealing with certain types of offenders” (Champion, Hartley, & Rabe, 2012, p. 299). This is an especially cogent observation in regard to specific types of crimes such as domestic violence. Because of the proliferation of domestic violence cases across diverse districts, the creation of specialized domestic violence courts is regarded by some legal experts as a desirable way to address a criminal and social problem that has emerged as a continuous problem for the criminal justice system. The idea of establishing specialty courts to address domestic violence is rooted in the belief that such courts can do a more effective job of eradicating domestic violence and reducing the number of repeat offenders.

According to Mirchandani’s article “What’s So Special about Specialized Courts? the State and Social Change in Salt Lake City’s Domestic Violence Court” (2005) what is hoped for in the creation of domestic violence courts is that such courts will take a more “grass roots” approach to stemming the tide of domestic violence. Mirchandani writes that  domestic violence courts attempt to “address crime’s ‘root causes’ within the individual, the society, and the larger culture in ways more characteristic of social movements” (Mirchandani, 2005). Therefore, the criminality aspects of domestic violence are dealt with in terms that also apply to larger social issues and are specified toward individual cases. The needs of individual communities are factored in to each specialty court, rather than simply applying a generic standard of law.

As Mirchandani mentions, those who support the idea of specialty courts believe that these courts are able to address the individual needs and problems of any given case in regard to not only the specific victim and defendant, but the individual community as well. For example, if a domestic violence court in a  certain community experiences a sudden surge in domestic violence cases, it may be possible for the court to determine an underlying community factor that contributed to either the spike in violence or the spike in reports of crime. Mirchandani notes that, according to those who support specialty courts, “the courts allow legal officials to respond not only to individual troubles but also to broader social issues as communities identify them” (Mirchandani, 2005). This is an aspect of criminal law that is closely tied to civic awareness and therefore brings a greater effectiveness to the judicial system.

The aforementioned theoretical ideas reveal the basic underlying reasons that supporters of specialty courts cite as being positive incentives for crating special domestic violence courts. However, the theoretical basis for specialty courts is a separate branch of argument from the issue of whether or not such courts are practically efficient and effective and whether or  not they achieve real-world results. Mirchandani’s conclusion is that such courts do produce important results that bring about a greater  degree of effectiveness in dealing with domestic violence on a community by community basis. He observes that specialty domestic violence courts “ elegantly and insightfully [capture] the need for efficiency, speed, and effectiveness in the face of increased caseloads” (Mirchandani, 2005). in other words, without the creation of specialty domestic violence courts, the criminal justice system as a whole would face a greater degree of backlog, impersonality, and ineffectiveness.

One of the positive capacities of domestic violence courts is that they are able to unify criminal and civil justice.  In the article “When Courts Collide: Integrated Domestic Violence Courts and Court Pluralism” (2011), MacDowell writes that the consolidation of civil and criminal cases is an important asset of domestic violence courts. The article insists that: “Specialized, integrated domestic violence courts are purported to solve these problems by consolidating […] civil and criminal dockets […]  with the paradigmatic integrated court assigning all related civil and criminal cases to a single judicial officer”  (MacDowell, 2011). These facts are cited by supporters of domestic violence courts as important factors for their efficiency and desirability.

Those who objective to the creation of domestic violence courts often cite the idea of judicial prejudice or “burn out” in their arguments. Roberts’ study, Handbook of Domestic Violence Intervention Strategies: Policies, Programs, and Legal Remedies(2002) observes that specialty courts can pose a danger to the impartiality of individual judges. The book suggests that ‘specialized judges can lose their neutrality, or the appearance of neutrality, by becoming more educated about the effects of domestic violence and collaborating with the advocacy community. Their effectiveness thus may become compromised” (Roberts, 2002, p. 153). Another danger is that prosecutors, defenders, and judges may become desensitized to domestic violence by dealing with the same kind of cases day in and day out.

In conclusion, the creation of specialty courts, such as domestic violence courts, is not only desirable  but necessary. The positive influence that such courts have on speed, efficiency, and individual attention to cases far outweighs the potential objections regarding burn-out and impartiality. The use of specialized courts enables the criminal justice system to respond to crimes in a more humane and informed capacity. Therefore the use of courts such as domestic violence courts should be viewed as a positive step in the justice system and one that should be continued.

References

Champion, D. J., Hartley, R. D., & Rabe, G. A. (2012). Criminal courts: Structure, process, and issues (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

MacDowell, E. L. (2011). When Courts Collide: Integrated Domestic Violence Courts and Court Pluralism. Texas Journal of Women and the Law, 20(2), 95+.

Mirchandani, R. (2005). What’s So Special about Specialized Courts? the State and Social Change in Salt Lake City’s Domestic Violence Court. Law & Society Review, 39(2), 379+.

Roberts, A. R. (Ed.). (2002). Handbook of Domestic Violence Intervention Strategies: Policies, Programs, and Legal Remedies. New York: Oxford University Press.

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