Webinar presenter Jessica Rock answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Domestic Violence & DV Investigations. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: What was the website that you mentioned earlier for finding pet-friendly domestic violence shelters. What was the name of that says that website?
Jessica Rock: It is Red Rover, I believe it’s either a dot org or dot com.
Audience Question: There seems to be an increase of domestic violence occurring during this Corona outbreak. Can you talk at all about that?
Jessica Rock: Yeah, you know me I always run out of time because I have so much to say in an hour. That is something that has been a huge concern for us in the field and obviously there’s a lot of us who are enjoying times with our family, enjoying time at home. But you have to remember those victims of domestic violence who are in an abusive relationship, this is pretty much their worst nightmare. It’s being essentially told that they have to go shelter in place with their abuser. I mean thankfully our First Responders are still out there responding to these calls, are still working these calls. Even within my office, our victim advocates are on call and we are doing our best in our office to maintain contacts and relationships with our victims and do what we can for them. But certainly, you know, when we have a situation like this and I know Andrew is probably going to go into a little bit more detail about it in his webinar but it’s it is a very dangerous time for victims and children of domestic violence who are literally being told okay, for now, you have to go isolate yourself in the place that you are on a regular basis rather than being able to leave your home to reach out to friends, to reach out to families. So you can imagine that, victims who are in abusive relationships. This is not a great time for them and we hope that the 911 calls are being made and we hope that as the situations are being handled appropriately by law enforcement and what have you. That’s why it is so important for us to understand how quickly even a misdemeanor domestic violence incident can later become a homicide and that’s why even when our first responders and our law enforcement respond to any of these calls especially in a time of crisis like we have now, that they removing abusers from those homes when they can because we definitely have a potential with all of the other factors that come into play in a crisis like this for those types of you know incidents to escalate very quickly.
Audience Question: Do you have a resource for the lethality indicators? She shares that she’d love to be able to have this research be able to bring to her at admin or county attorney to be able to help include this into the DV report checklist.
Jessica Rock: So if I could I don’t know if I can pull my screen down. I do have resources. I don’t have it off the top of my head but that the best thing I can do to create the best thing I can do to tell you is to go just if you just want me to Google lethality indicators in domestic violence cases, all types of things will pop up. You will see there’s a lot of our domestic violence shelters and a lot of our domestic violence organizations that have these with lethality indicators and kind of go through the specifics of them. So just Google lethality indicators in domestic violence cases and you will see all kinds of fabulous resources when it comes to this information.
Audience Question: Some prosecutors regularly plea down domestic violence charges to simple assault. Can you talk about the possible consequences of this and how we can change the culture of our office?
Jessica Rock: You know, this is exactly what I was mentioning before at the very beginning of my presentations where it is so crucial for us to hold offenders accountable with the proper charges with the proper punishment for these types of cases. I know one of the reasons that this happens sometimes is because, in jurisdictions like where I used to be a special type of prosecutor, we require defendants to go to a very long, twenty-six-week course, that was somewhat expensive although they do work on a sliding scale with income for domestic violence. The biggest hang-up for offenders coming in and taking a plea to a domestic violence charge and the biggest thing that defense attorneys approach prosecutors about they try to get us to reduce the charge is because “Oh, you know, my client doesn’t have the money to pay for these classes.” Or, “Oh, that’s so much time away from work.” There’s always kind of reasons why they try to get prosecutors to reduce those cases. There’s not a single time that I could tell you that you can give me a set of facts and I will say do it then or don’t do it then because it’s kind of one of those situations where as a domestic violence prosecutor, you really have to understand the significance of these cases and you really have to understand how quickly a misdemeanor offense can end up in a homicide. When you experience something like that or you take the time to really truly understand the dynamics of domestic violence as an office, as a whole you have a particular DA in your jurisdiction who takes these cases very seriously and says, “No, we’re not going to start pleading those down. It’s either domestic violence or nothing.” That’s also another reason why they get pled down because sometimes there’s the decision well do we go forward on domestic violence if we cannot prove the statute? Do we just get something out of the case because we can’t really prove a domestic violence case but they are willing to take a plea to simple assault? I can’t answer this question in a vacuum because there are so many different factors that come into play and I think you have to take each case on a case-by-case basis. You have to look at the evidence that you have, you have to have a conversation with your victim. You have to have people working on your team who understand the dynamics of domestic violence and what may be the most appropriate thing to do in that case. First and foremost, we need to be concerned about our victim safety. Sometimes that gets to be a very difficult decision when we know our victim is in the cycle of violence and is us going forward on a case going to make things worse for her or is it going to help? There are all kinds of things that come into play with these cases. So the long story short, because I could go on and on and on about this so long story short, is to be sure whoever is in charge in your office or some supervisor position in your office be sure they truly have experience with these cases, understand the dynamics of them, and be sure they are helping you and available for you as maybe a newer prosecutor to talk to about specifically what evidence you have, what you could prove, what the best results in that particular set of facts and for that particular victim, you know, as you’re moving through these cases, I mean, there’s not really an easy way to answer that other than we have to take them seriously, we have to take these cases seriously and when we have the evidence and it’s there, we need to not be afraid to go to trial if that’s what we need to do. Prosecutors are trial lawyers. If they want a trial and that’s what the appropriate thing to do is, that’s what we need to do. It may or may not be the appropriate thing to do. It really just depends on all the circumstances.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Domestic Violence & DV Investigations.