Local News

N.C. Taking a Step Toward Fighting Domestic Violence

Posted January 6, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— Officials in North Carolina took a big step Monday afternoon in the fight against domestic violence. Now the state has a special court focusing strictly on violence within families.

The first day in the court went fairly slowly, but that shouldn't be the case for long. There are thousands of domestic violence cases on the books in Wake County and, once the court catches up on the backlog, things should move more quickly.

The court system's goal is to allow workers to become more involved with families in trouble. The theory is that if court workers get to know the people involved, they can become more familiar with patterns of violence.

In an effort to promote more consistency, one district attorney and one judge will be assigned to see cases through the system.

Couples who want to have their cases dropped will find it harder to do so. The Marshalls say they have had some trouble figuring out where to go.

The reason it is more difficult for people to drop charges once they've been filed is that many repeat offenders attempt to have their cases dropped. Court officials say they need to keep such families in the system as they try to stop violent trends.

Offenders can be fined and sentenced up to 150 days in jail for misdemeanor assault on a female. First time offenders are likely to be sentenced to the Domestic Offenders Sentencing to Education program (DOSE), which provides 98 hours of counseling over 26 weeks.

The more aggressive approach in handling domestic violence cases isn't limited to Wake County. Across North Carolina, police departments are increasingly take a tough stance with people who beat their spouses, even in cases where spouses later decides they don't want to pursue criminal charges.

A growing number of police and prosecutors are adopting ``pro-arrest'' and ``no-drop'' policies when it comes to domestic abuse charges.

Durham's prosecutors now operate under a ``no-drop'' policy, meaning spousal abuse cases are prosecuted even if the victim changes his or her mind and wants to drop the charges.

And in 1995, Durham implemented its ``pro-arrest'' policy, in which officers are expected to make an arrest if they have sufficient reason to think an assault has occurred or the spouse has violated a court order.

Raleigh police have also been given more discretion, but are encouraged to make arrests in specific circumstances and are required to arrest if a trespassing or harassment court order has been violated.

The pro-arrest protocol has been on the books in Chapel Hill since 1989.

``Before that, we were following what was popular at the time, which was to mediate and not make an arrest,'' said Jane Cousins, a police spokeswoman. ``Then we realized that assaulting somebody is a crime. It doesn't matter if it's your wife, your girlfriend or a stranger.''

Police are also becoming more meticulous about documenting evidence in domestic violence cases, and several departments have created special domestic-violence units.

Rather than take a brief report or none at all, police officers are now being trained to thoroughly document injuries from beatings and to assess the emotional state of the victims. They are taking photographs of assaulted spouses, interviewing neighbors, securing copies of 911 calls and records of previous police reports and tracking down restraining orders.

``All of these pieces of evidence can really make a difference when it comes to getting a conviction,'' said Elizabeth Froehling, a Durham prosecutor who also works only on domestic violence cases.

Studies estimate that one-third of all women treated in emergency rooms are domestic-violence victims and that the leading cause of workplace death for women is domestic homicide.

- Reporting by WRAL-TV5's Amanda Lamb and the Associated Press