MoCo Domestic Violence Court has nearly 90% conviction rate

A recent study released by Sam Houston State University shows that the Montgomery County Domestic Violence Specialty Court is one of the best performing in the nation with a conviction rate of nearly 90% in domestic violence cases.

The study was a collaboration between Ling Ren, a criminal justice professor and researcher at SHSU, and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney Brett Ligon said the data is key to determining how the court is working and what improvements can be made.

Domestic violence is a serious and pervasive problem in every county in Texas,” Ligon said. “For various reasons, the investigation and prosecution of these cases is difficult. We are interested in finding ways to be more effective in protecting those who suffer from abuse. Our cooperation with Dr. Ren and Sam Houston State University has provided us with an honest and lucid assessment of the progress we are making.

According to data from Ligon’s office, over the past five years, the number of domestic violence cases filed has steadily increased. In 2018, the office filed 732. To date this year, 685 files have been filed.

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Ren said there are more than 200 domestic violence courts in the United States, but few have been systematically and scientifically evaluated.

The Montgomery County Domestic Violence Court was started in 2011 by Law County Court No. 2 Judge Claudia Laird and former Montgomery County Domestic Violence Division Chief Echo Hutson.

“I saw the way domestic violence cases were handled and thought it could be better, Laird said.

Laird, who took the bench in 2011, said tackling domestic violence was part of his platform at the time. She said Ligon and her office have supported domestic violence efforts.

“I’m not surprised it worked out well,” Laird said.

The study, funded by a grant from the university, assessed nearly 6,000 cases between 2009 and 2018, including two years before the tribunal was established.

“(Montgomery County) has incredibly determined and aggressive prosecutions, all backed by statistical results,” Ren said of his 89% conviction rate in his domestic violence court. “This places Montgomery County among the top performers nationally in handling domestic assault cases.”

Ren used data from the 2009 article “Prosecution and Conviction Rates for Intimate Partner Violence”, which compiled a list of prosecution conviction rates involving 268,159 lawsuits in various courts in the United States, United Kingdom and in Australia.

According to the study, the average conviction rate for domestic violence cases in non-specialized courts prior to 2007 according to the data was 47.8%. However, Ren provided updated data including more recent studies. The results show that the average conviction rate for domestic violence cases across all courts was 71% in nine samples from multiple jurisdictions, including Kansas City, Mo., Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Montgomery County.

One area that makes county domestic violence court successful is prompt processing, the study notes. Ren said the data showed the fastest processing time in the county was 38 days from case initiation to sentencing. A quick turnaround, she said, will have fewer victims recanting their stories and lead to more convictions.

“I felt that the prosecutors, judges and probation officers paid a lot of attention to each case. It’s only fair that we researchers do our due diligence, which is how I made my decision,” Ren said. “I have seen how much time and commitment is put in by the prosecutor’s office, the court judges and the probation service. I will say that their success is due to teamwork.

Hutson, who is helping establish the domestic violence division with the district attorney’s office, will assume the county court bench at Law No. 4 in January and will handle misdemeanor cases and a domestic violence case. Hutson defeated Gary Miller in the Republican primary in March and will run unopposed in the Nov. 8 ballot.

“This study has helped us see the difference between cases being handled in this division versus cases being handled on regular court dockets, and the level of success is truly undeniable,” Hutson said. “I think everyone involved with this program is very happy to see the long-term success, something that you don’t always see or recognize in the day-to-day operation of a program like this.”

The study noted areas for improvement needed, including support for staffing issues, probation supervision, offender rehabilitation programs and victim services.

“To be successful, you need multiple players,” Ren said. “Not only prosecutors and judges, but also victims’ rights advocates and service providers to make sure we can reduce recidivism rates and prevent these things from happening again. It’s a cycle, so I think the justice system has some responsibility for breaking that violent cycle for the victims as well as the offenders.

Hutson agrees and says that once she takes office, she plans to explore an expanded justice program for perpetrators of domestic violence with more personalized mental health counseling and treatment options, and expanded addiction and rehabilitation opportunities.

“This would come naturally from partnering with organizations and programs in our area that we haven’t used before, to provide expanded treatment to specifically address the dynamics and psychology of perpetrators of domestic violence,” he said. she declared.

In addition, a more consolidated and reliable approach to providing services to victims of domestic violence is needed. Hutson said victims who receive services for their trauma are more likely to leave the relationship.

“Victims are very often traumatized, overwhelmed and pressured by the offender to return home, whether coerced, threatened or bribed and promised that their needs would be met,” said Hutson. “To the point where they’re overwhelmed and feel like they can’t navigate it on their own, that’s where we very often lose our victims and they go back to the aggressor.”

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