Domestic violence (DV) courts are specialized, problem-solving courts that specifically handle domestic violence cases. DV courts operate on their own court calendar and cases are usually presided over by one judge who is specially assigned to the court. This allows the judge to gain specialized knowledge and expertise in unique aspects related to domestic violence cases, ultimately promoting more consistent and informed decisions over time. The goals of DV courts include holding offenders accountable for illegal behavior and reducing their recidivism, protecting the safety of DV victims, and increasing the consistency of DV case dispositions and sentences.
There are over 200 DV courts operating across the United States. The state of New York is home to 64 DV courts (Cissner, Labriola, and Rempel 2013). New York State has criminal and integrated DV courts. Criminal DV courts tend to be more common throughout the United States, and operate a specialized caseload for which eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis and includes DV-related cases only. Integrated DV courts are similar, but place criminal, family, and matrimonial cases involving the same family before one judge. Both types of DV courts focus on rehabilitating the offender and typically act as a diversion option in lieu of a jail sentence.
To be eligible for the criminal DV court in New York, a family must have had at least one criminal DV offense, most often in the form of intimate partner violence. The eligibility criteria across the DV courts in New York vary by court. For example, some courts accept elder abuse cases, child abuse cases, cases involving violence between other family members (e.g., siblings), and cases of violence between non-intimate partners who live together. Some courts accept only misdemeanants, while other courts accept only felons. Only a few courts accept both misdemeanants and felons.
The following program elements are part of the criminal DV court model:
Special Sentencing Conditions: Typically, criminal DV courts in New York include a protective order as part of the final sentence. Some courts require convicted offenders to also attend batterer intervention or other commonly mandated programs, such as alcohol or substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, parenting classes, and anger management.
Offender Assessment: On occasion, New York DV courts will include formalized offender assessments that cover a range of issues such as drug use, mental health issues, sociodemographic background, service needs, risk for repeat violence and/or lethality, or a history of victimization.
Supervision and Compliance: Sometimes offenders in New York criminal DV courts are mandated to probation. Judicial supervision is common, and includes regular status hearings before a judge who is able to implement various sanctions and incentives for compliance-monitoring purposes.
Dedicated Staffing: Criminal DV courts in New York have at least one judge dedicated to the caseload. The judge acts similarly to a case manager and meets regularly with clients to ensure compliance with conditions of probation and the DV court program. Additionally, the judge engages with clients to help them better understand the requirements of the DV court, including incentives, sanctions, and restrictions regarding victim interaction.
Victim Safety and Services: Typically, there is at least one victim advocate dedicated to the domestic violence caseload. Victim advocates serve as the primary contact to victims and act as a liaison between victims and the court. Advocates also assist in creating safety plans and coordinating housing, counseling, and other social services for victims. They also are available to provide victims with information regarding criminal proceedings and help them to understand special conditions of their protection order (New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services 2015).
Important personnel include a trained and dedicated DV court judge, prosecutor, public defender, victim advocates, probation officers, and other court staff who appear regularly at DV court status hearings.
Overall, Cissner, Labriola, and Rempel (2013) found mixed results. While the criminal domestic violence (DV) courts in New York significantly reduce case-processing time, there was no significant impact on recidivism, convictions rates, and sentences that involve jail or prison. The preponderance of evidence suggests the DV courts did not affect offender behavior.
There were no significant differences regarding re-arrest rates between the treatment and control groups.
The integrated DV courts significantly reduced case-processing time (197 days for the treatment group, compared with 260 days to disposition for the control group), indicating the courts were successful in promoting case-processing efficiency.
Conviction Rates and Sentencing
However, conviction rates between the treatment and control groups did not significantly differ, nor did the percentage of sentences that involved jail or prison dispositions.
Cissner, Labriola, and Rempel (2013) used a quasi-experimental design to evaluate effects of 24 criminal domestic violence (DV) courts throughout the state of New York. Thirteen of the courts accept elder abuse cases, while nine accept child abuse cases, 12 accept cases involving violence between other family members (e.g., siblings), and two accept cases of violence between non-intimate partners who live together. Eighteen of the 24 courts accept only misdemeanants, while five accept only felons, and one court accepts both. Eighteen of the 24 courts accept only misdemeanants, while five accept only felons, and one court accepts both. To be eligible for DV court, a family must have had at least one criminal DV offense, most often in the form of intimate partner violence.
Outcomes were compared between matched samples of defendants, equally distributed by four strata: New York City sites (7), suburban sites (4), upstate cities (4), and upstate semi-rural/rural sites. The treatment group comprised defendants from the 24 DV courts, while the comparison group was drawn from defendants in conventional courts operating in the same 24 jurisdictions. The treatment group was selected from all cases that were arrested and processed during the first 2 calendar years of court operations. Similarly, the comparison group defendants were chosen from cases processed in conventional courts during the 2 full calendar years preceding the opening of the specialized court. Propensity score matching was used to ensure baseline equivalence between the two groups regarding population density, criminal history information, current charges, and demographic information.
Recidivism was measured based on re-arrest within 3 years, and re-arrest measures were typified by charge seriousness (e.g., misdemeanor or felony) and charge type (e.g., domestic violence incident, domestic violence incident with same victim, violent offense, and drug offense). Additional outcomes were related to case-processing time and case outcomes, such as conviction rates, sentencing decisions, and length of time sentenced to probation, jail, or prison.
There is no cost information available for this program.
Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:Study 1
Cissner, Amanda B., Melissa Labriola, and Michael Rempel. 2013. Testing the Effects of New York’s Domestic Violence Courts: A Statewide Impact Evaluation.
New York, N.Y.: Center for Court Innovation. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/242583.pdf
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Labriola, Melissa, Sarah Bradley, Chris S. O’Sullivan, Michael Rempel, and Samantha Moore. 2009. A National Portrait of Domestic Violence Courts
. New York, N.Y.: Center for Court Innovation.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. No date. “New York State Domestic Violence Courts Program Fact Sheet.” Accessed September 17, 2015.http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/ofpa/domviolcrtfactsheet.htm