Understanding prosecutorial decision making involved in the processing of domestic violence cases under a mandatory arrest policy
Rousonelos, Cassandra A.
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Policy changes, which affect the actions of police and prosecutors may be important indicators of changes in the treatment of domestic violence victims. Mandatory arrest policies were formulated in response to the battered women's movement which fought to change the state's weak response to domestic violence incidents. Arrest is only the first step in processing domestic violence cases. Although mandatory arrest was designed to eliminate police discretion with regard to domestic crimes, it does not ensure that officials will perceive and deal with domestic violence as a serious crime. The effectiveness of a mandatory arrest policy in deterring future violence is inextricably linked to the criminal justice response following arrest. While mandatory arrest requires police to arrest domestic violence offenders, further processing of offenders falls to prosecutors. This qualitative study seeks to determine what factors shape prosecutorial decision making in a state that operates under a mandatory arrest policy. A combination of open-ended survey and interview methods were used to explore the processing of domestic violence cases. Analysis of survey and interview data revealed that three factors shape prosecutors' decisions regarding dismissal, charging, and sentencing recommendations: police conduct, organizational norms and victim impact. Since police are the initial respondents to domestic violence, the manner in which they handle a case would appear to be critical to the prosecutor's decision to \ process the case. Also, office norms that encourage the treatment of offenders and the protection of victims while preserving the institution of the family have forced prosecutors to ignore victims' pleas to dismiss cases. As a consequence, victims have little consequential power in a system that was created to empower them. There is a need to continue exploring the effects of mandatory arrest policies for victims of domestic violence.