Monday, October 10, 2011

Akron, Ohio's Domestic Violence Court

The first court in the state of Ohio devoted exclusively to handling felonies stemming from domestic violence issues opened in Akron last Monday with its first 15 cases. Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Gallagher, who’ll preside over the new court, told the Akron Legal News he expects to handle at least 350 cases a year.

"The goal of this court is to hold offenders accountable, increase the safety of victims and ensure consistency in the way these cases are handled," Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said in a USAToday article this morning. "This is not a diversion program. Our ultimate goal is to stop the cycle of violence."

Offenders who have at least two misdemeanor domestic violence charges from a municipal court will move to the common pleas domestic violence court. The second offense is a 4th degree felony and the third offense is a 3rd degree felony. The Summit County's prosecutor's office indicted 353 felony cases last year. Judge Gallagher said he expects to have a steady docket of at least that many or more.

Quite often victims will recant, Gallagher said in the Akron News article, in part because of dependency issues. "Trials are also interesting to jurors -- to hear on a 911 tape 'he's going to kill me,' then on stand have them say he's the picture of a near-perfect spouse. To hear women recant is hard to understand, so we often have experts in these issues come in and explain, to the jury, why women recant."

"Everybody charged with domestic violence is screened through normal plea negotiations with the prosecutor's office," he said. "I agree with their philosophy, that just because a victim recants, that doesn't mean the case would go away." The prosecutor's office in Summit County has been very successful in prosecution even when victims recant, he added.

Coincidentially, The Columbus Dispatch last week reported the Ohio Supreme Court's hearing oral arguments that same day on a domestic violence case that could have wide-reaching affect across the state. There, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office wants the high court to instruct judges across the state to consider calling accusers to the stand in domestic-violence cases, which would give prosecutors a chance to cross-examine them on statements and complaints made to police before they then refused to testify. ( Memorandum in support of jurisdiction ) Our post last Thursday has more.

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