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Published: Tuesday, 6/21/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Domestic violence offenders rarely convicted, report says

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Asleep at home, Unique Jones heard a pounding on the door. She knew exactly who it was and what he wanted.

Her then-husband broke into her home and, wearing leather gloves, ripped the phone cords from a wall and “beat me up,” Ms. Jones said.

Ms. Jones, 27, a victim of domestic violence, spoke out Tuesday at a news conference that highlighted a new report on domestic violence cases brought before judges in Toledo Municipal Court.

The 2010 Domestic Violence Court Watch Report, put together by nonprofit Independent Advocates, states that, of the 1,916 misdemeanor domestic violence cases in Municipal Court last year, only 13 percent resulted in convictions; 82 percent were dismissed or amended to lesser charges, according to the report. Five percent of cases were pending.

“Victims feel failed by the institution that’s designed to protect them,” said Independent Advocates codirector Rebecca Facey, adding that the response is “unacceptable.”

The report also summarizes that “Toledo Municipal Court is not prepared to respond effectively to the complex crime of domestic violence.”

Municipal Court Judge Allen McConnell, along with other judges, prosecutors, city and county officials, was given a copy of the report last week.

“I don’t think the report takes into consideration the dynamics that take place in a courtroom and the major problems we face as judges,” Judge McConnell said. “I think the conviction rate is always dependent upon the victim. If there’s no cooperation from the victim, the conviction rate isn’t going to change ... I’m not saying that’s my desire, but that’s the reality of things.

“I pray that they will [show up],” the judge said. “My desire is for the victim to be there so I can get a handle on what happened ... If I don’t have a victim, there’s nothing I can do. Those are the limitations placed on us as judges.”

If the person filing a domestic violence complaint does not show up in court — they are given three opportunities — the case is dismissed. Of all the domestic violence cases that come before Judge McConnell, victims only show up about 25 percent of the time, he said.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “You want to take the position to go out and find them ... but you can’t force them to testify.”

The report states that “victims have told advocates that they understand why victims don’t come to court; they do not feel safe in court, they feel like a number instead of a person, and they have no confidence in the court’s ability to stop their abusers from committing crimes against them.”

“I don’t agree with that,” the judge said in response. “If they don’t show up for court, we don’t have a chance to give them exposure, protection, or whatever they need to bring about a conviction. They have to give the system a chance to work properly.”

Independent Advocates suggests six things the court could do to help victims feel more at ease while awaiting arraignment or trials, including separate waiting rooms for victims and alleged offenders.

Independent Advocates trained 60 volunteers last year who sat in on courtroom proceedings and scoured the Clerk of Courts Web site to gather the report’s statistics.

Judge McConnell said it seems the number of domestic violence cases he has seen in the past few years has “moderately increased.” On Monday the judge said he saw about 20 domestic violence cases in his courtroom.

The judge also said he and other Municipal Court judges would review the report at an upcoming monthly judges meeting and see what, if any of the suggestions, they could implement.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at:

tdungjen@theblade.com

or 419-724-6054.



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