Chester L. Britt III, Natasha Frost
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Department or Academic Unit
College of Criminal Justice
Court community, Domestic violence, Feminist jurisprudence, Legal system
Criminology and Criminal Justice
Domestic violence has been mistreated by the criminal justice system for years. These cases were ignored by police officers and neglected by courts. Hardly viewed as criminal, domestic violence was treated as a private family matter. Laws governing the criminal justice system response to domestic violence changed through the passage of mandated arrest and prosecution policies. While arrest rates, for domestic violence, increased throughout the 1990s and 2000s, these cases continue to receive lenient treatment by our courts. Most of these cases are resolved with dismissals. The purpose of this study is to explore if the court community literature can offer a possible explanation to this problem. Using feminist jurisprudence as a framework in which to understand how traditional and specialized courts differentially assess evidence and make decisions, this study analyzes the local legal culture of two courts, a traditional court and a specialized problem solving court to understand how they discuss and process domestic violence cases differently.
Two district courts of similar size, demographics, and economic conditions are compared. One received a grant from the National Institute of Justice which allowed it to create a specialized domestic violence court. The second, the comparison court, did not and is representative of a traditional court model. Both courts had very busy dockets and were located in small urban cities. The primary methodology employed by this study was twenty three semi structure interviews with court workgroup members. This qualitative approach allowed for in depth interviews which generated detail about each court’s culture and processes. These interviews were supplemented with in court observations which served to validate and strengthen the findings.
This study revealed that very different local legal cultures can exist in courtrooms in neighboring communities. Talking to the members of these court workgroups, I discovered a very different cohesion of people in each court. The goals of the courts were varied and were detrimental to the prosecuting of domestic violence cases. The way that the courts typified the cases and the resulting going rates were representative of these goals. The judges were responsible for establishing and communicating the goals of each session to the attorneys. Finally, the law was used differentially by the court workgroup members, and especially by their judges, in the pursuit of the goals of their court. The qualitative method this study employed allowed for an in-depth exploration of the nuances of each culture. It attempts to bring to the domestic violence literature a novel explanation for why domestic violence cases suffer in our nation’s courts. By talking to the court workgroup members, it was revealed that many of them were frustrated with the results they were achieving but were somewhat powerless to control them. Additionally, this study examines how a specialized session can better serve the needs of victims of domestic violence and the community at-large. The specialized session called for different goals than the traditional courts and a different theory of punishment. Rather than focusing on the docket and punitive measures, specialized sessions can focus on the parties and their community, and seek to alleviate the social problem through a rehabilitative model.
Currul-Dykeman, Kathleen Erin, "Understanding the effects of the court community on the processing of domestic violence cases" (2010). Criminal Justice Dissertations. Paper 1. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/d20000243
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