June and July 2012 Statistics

In the months of June and July 2012…

DC DV Court Watch Project volunteers sat in on 292 CPO cases.

Where the gender of the parties was recorded:

Petitioners: 232 females, 47 males. Petitioners were female in 83% of the cases;

Respondents: 73 females, 204 males. Respondents were male in 74% of the cases.

Where the perceived race of the parties was recorded:

Petitioners: 214 black/African American, 12 white, 14 Hispanic, Asian,  13 “other”

Respondents: 192 black/African American,  7 white, 13 Hispanic, 1 Asian,  12 “other”

The racial break-down of cases recorded for parties were disproportionately African-American.

Where the relationship of the parties in the cases was recorded (with some overlap):

49 were married,   

124 previously dated or were romantically involved,

5  involved stalking, where in which, there was not necessarily a prior relationship,

43 had a child in common,

had a partner in common,

22 were relatives,

21 were roommates.

Where the outcomes of the cases were recorded:

Dismissals

Dismissed With Prejudice: 1,

Dismissed Without Prejudice: 79 ( 52 which were because Petitioner was absent, 9 of which were due to failure of service multiple times, and 18 of which were at Petitioner’s request–often because of failure to serve Respondent)

CPOs

94 granted (80 were through consent orders or default because Respondent did not appear, and 14 were in contested hearings);

denied (in contested hearing)

Continuances

90 granted (41 of which were because no service of process had occurred, 23 of which were at Petitioner’s request, 13 of which were ordered by the judge, and 13 due to trailing criminal case)

 

Thank you for your continued interest in and support of the DC Domestic Violence Court Watch Project! Please email kvandertuig@dcsafe.org if you are interested in getting involved. Check back in a couple weeks to see our mid-year report on all data collected!

 

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Overview of Outcomes of CPO Cases: January – May 2012

In this Court Watch Project post, we will be discussing the general outcomes of cases heard by CWP volunteers from January – May 2012. When a petition for a Civil Protection Order (CPO) comes before the court, there are six different things that can happen: a Dismissal Without Prejudice, a Dismissal With Prejudice, a Continuance, a Default Judgment, a Consent Order, and a Contested Hearing. An explanation of each of these situations follows, but can also be found here and here.

When a case is Dismissed Without Prejudice, the judge dismisses the case from the court without entering a CPO.  No testimony is taken, no facts are entered into the official court record, and no parties are legally obligated to do anything further.   Cases are normally dismissed without prejudice for one of three reasons: the Petitioner is absent and does not appear before the court to bring his or her case, the Petitioner voluntarily agrees to drop the case and move on without a CPO, or the Petitioner is having repeated trouble serving the Respondent with a copy of the petition.  If a case is dismissed without prejudice, Petitioners always have the option to file another petition based on the same events.

On the other hand, when a case is Dismissed With Prejudice, the Petitioner does not have the ability to bring the case again.  The judge still dismisses the case from the court, and no CPO is entered, but the option to file another petition is not granted.  The issues addressed in the original petition will not be heard before the court ever again.  This is a relatively rare occurrence, and can be done to penalize Petitioners who are seen as persistently misbehaving (interrupting court proceedings, “acting out” in court, etc). The judge may also decide to dismiss a case with prejudice if the Petitioner has had many chances to try to get the respondent served (see “Continued”), but is  unsuccessful. The judge may perceive that the Petitioner is does not actually want the CPO or that the Petitioner is no longer in danger because they cannot locate the Respondent. Though this occurs rarely, it can still be problematic for Petitioners when the Respondent is effectively and consistently evading service.

Sometimes the court or the parties are unable to proceed with a case on the day that it has been scheduled for.  If this happens, the case may be Continued (rescheduled for another day, typically two weeks in the future).  Cases may be continued for many reasons; though they can pose problems for both the Petitioner and the Court, they are often necessary.  If a Petitioner wants more time to successfully serve the Respondent or seek legal representation, he or she may ask the court for a continuance.  As you will see in the data, continuances are routinely granted. Check out a previous post on the causes and repercussions of continuances with data gathered in February 2012.

If the Petitioner successfully serves the Respondent with the petition and an order to appear on the court date, the Respondent must appear.  If the Respondent fails to appear despite having received service, the Petitioner will likely receive a Default Judgment or Default Order.  In this situation, a CPO is entered and goes into effect based on the testimony of only the Petitioner.  Since the Respondent had the opportunity to defend against the allegations in the petition and the terms of the order, but chose not to, a CPO will be entered against him or her despite the absence.  Following a default judgment, a bench warrant will be issued for the Respondent’s arrest so that he or she can be brought before the court to explain the absence and be given a copy of the new CPO.

If both parties are present they may enter into a Consent Order before their case is ever called.  In this situation, the Petitioner and the Respondent both agree to have a CPO in effect, but the Respondent does not formally admit to any wrongdoing.  If Petitioner files another case against Respondent or chooses to pursue other options, the fact that the Respondent agreed to a consent order cannot be used as evidence of any misconduct on his or her part.  After the judge signs the consent agreement, the agreed-upon CPO will be in effect for one year.

If a consent order is not possible and the parties have no other recourse, they can proceed with a Contested Hearing.  A contested hearing represents a full adjudication of the issues between the parties, with the judge acting as the finder of fact.  Both parties will give testimony, the judge will decide who he or she finds more credible, and the judge will decide whether or not, based on the credibility of each side’s evidence, to grant a CPO.  Only a small percentage of cases end with contested hearings.

Based on the statistics that have been gathered by SAFE volunteers between January and May of this year, here is how the final decisions of cases have been distributed:

  • 255 cases were Dismissed Without Prejudice (173 because Petitioner was absent, 73 by Petitioner’s request, and 8 because of repeated difficulties in serving the Respondent with the petition)
  • 6 cases were Dismissed With Prejudice
  • 66 cases ended with a Default Judgment
  • 157 cases ended with a Consent Order
  • 25 cases ended with Contested Hearings (20 Petitioners were granted CPOs, 5 were not granted CPOs)
Outcomes January-May 2012

In cases where Court Watch Volunteers were recording data, 47.8% of petitions filed so far this year ended with the entering of a CPO by the court.  Most of these CPOs were obtained through Consent Agreements.

The most common outcome for cases is to be dismissed without prejudice.  Over half of all cases filed so far this year recorded by Court Watch Project Volunteers, were dismissed.  The absence of the Petitioner accounted for the dismissal of 34% of all cases.  While it is important for Petitioners to make their court dates, there are many legitimate reasons for an absence.  For example, Petitioners may be too afraid of seeing the Respondent to appear before the court, Petitioners may have difficulties finding someone else to care for their children, or Petitioners may have difficulties getting to the courthouse, just to name a few.  There are many legitimate reasons for Petitioners to be absent, and if a Petitioner still feels strongly afterwards about getting a CPO, he or she is free to come to the courthouse and re-file a petition at any point.  Additionally, Petitioners have the option of meeting with a SAFE Court Advocate who can help the Petitioner safety plan around potential barriers that make it difficult, dangerous or impossible to come to court on the day of the  CPO hearing.

April and May 2012 Statistics

In the months of April and May 2012…

DC DV Court Watch Project volunteers sat in on 288 CPO cases.

Where the gender of the parties was recorded:

Petitioners: 184 females, 40 males. Petitioners were female in 82% of the cases;

Respondents: 53 females, 168 males. Respondents were male in 76% of the cases.

Where the perceived race of the parties was recorded:

Petitioners: 150 black/African American, 10 white, 9 Hispanic, Asian,  0 “other”

Respondents: 138 black/African American,  6 white, 11 Hispanic, 2 Asian,  0  “other”

The racial break-down of cases recorded for parties were disproportionately African-American.

Where the relationship of the parties in the cases was recorded (with some overlap):

39 were married,   

89 previously dated or were romantically involved,

involved stalking, where in which, there was not necessarily a prior relationship,

44 had a child in common,

had a partner in common,

20 were relatives,

13 were roommates.

Where the outcomes of the cases were recorded:

Dismissals

Dismissed With Prejudice: 1,

Dismissed Without Prejudice: 114 (82 of which were because Petitioner was absent, 4 of which were due to failure of service multiple times, and 28 of which were at Petitioner’s request–often because of failure to serve Respondent)

CPOs

86 granted (81 were through consent orders or default because Respondent did not appear, and 5 were in contested hearings);

denied (in contested hearing)

Continuances

59 granted (27 of which were because no service of process had occurred, 14 of which were at Petitioner’s request,of which were ordered by the judge, and 12 due to trailing criminal case)

You may notice in looking at this data that volunteers observed significantly fewer cases in the months of April and May than in previous months. This is partially due to the fact that many of our volunteers are students who are not in Washington, DC for the summer. The other reason that this is the case is because we have begun to stress more pointedly that the quality (i.e. a completely and accurately filled out form) is more important to the accuracy and richness of the data set and analysis than the quantity of cases recorded. Our volunteers have been doing an excellent job of ensuring that all possible data that can be collected is reflected correctly and fully on the form. You will notice that the proportion of data about the cases relative to the number of cases recorded by volunteers in April and May is much higher than in previous months.

Thank you for your continued interest in and support of the DC Domestic Violence Court Watch Project! Please email kvandertuig@dcsafe.org if you are interested in getting involved.

Legal Representation for Parties in CPO cases : Frequency and Breakdown

In this Court Watch Project Blog post, we are examining the frequency and proportion of Petitioners and Respondents who have legal representation for their CPO hearing. While the DV civil protection order process is designed to be easy to access and pro se (parties can represent themselves without attorneys), it is permissible for parties to have legal representation.

A total of 116 of Petitioners and 139 of Respondents have been recorded as represented by attorneys-most of the others were either pro-se or absent. Of the total 767 cases that Court Watch volunteers have sat in on this year, 368 had data recorded for both parties with respect to representation; the following percentages are out of those which all data was present (so n/368).

The breakdown in the graph below displays that while most often both parties were not represented (44% of the time), the second most common arrangement was when only the Petitioner had counsel (26% of the time). Both parties were represented quite frequently (24% of the time), as compared to when only the Respondent had counsel (6% of the time).

Around 32% of the time, at least one party has representation. —where Petitioners have attorneys more frequently than Respondents This may give one party an advantage because the attorney is better able to navigate Court proceedings. If the Petitioner is surviving a pattern of abuse, having representation may equal out the playing fields in Court in cases where the abuser, or Respondent, is very manipulative or threatening. Petitioners may be afraid to come to court due to real or perceived threats, they may be very anxious about seeing or speaking out against their abuser or the Respondent may be able to manipulate the situation to make the Petitioner look less credible; these threats are increased if the Petitioner faces other life-generated barriers such as age, language, fear of coming out, or immigration. Having an attorney may lessen these threats and make it easier for the Petitioner to come to court and get the CPO.

Additionally, representation for parties in CPO cases can become vital if the case is convoluted. And indeed, of the 521 cases where the question of complicating matters was answered, 27% were reported to have complicating related cases—where other issues complicated getting the protection order such as custody, child support, visitation, and criminal cases.

If a Petitioner or Respondent cannot get pro-bono services, they either must go pro-se—or if, they feel it is important enough—pay the costs of legal representation. This varies depending on whether the counsel is for-profit, how many hours are required, and what the case involved—but can easily be over $1000 for an average CPO case. It is vital that parties which cannot afford legal counsel but feel they very much need it to try to find a lawyer or organization that can give free or sliding-scale counsel or at least out-of-court guidance.

There are various legal organizations which can be helpful for Petitioners and Respondents—often even representing them in court. Such free counsel for family court issues like CPOs, custody, or child support can be found for either party at Catholic CharitiesChildren’s Law CenterNeighborhood Legal Services ProgramWhitman-Walker Clinic (mostly for LGBTQ and people living with HIV/AIDS), Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (for those facing homelessness in DC), American University Washington College of Law Domestic Violence Clinic,Catholic Universities of America Family Law Clinic , Tahirih Justice Center (for immigrant women/girls), Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) (for Latinos in DC), George Washington University Jacob Burns Community Legal ClinicsGeorgetown University Family Advocacy Clinic, and UDC Law Clinics. All of these places will want to conflict-check, and some will decide not to help a Respondent or a Petitioner if they feel that person is a primary or predominant aggressor.

Also, anyone can get help—but not legal representation—at the Family Court Self-Help Center and Landlord-Tenant Resource Center on issues that relate or often go hand-in-hand in the CPO process, such as figuring out who has rights over a property when one or both names are on the lease. Similarly, DC SAFE helps Petitioners go through the process (such as helping them compose the petition) but then cannot represent the client directly. DC SAFE therefore tries to connect Petitioners with free legal representation from the following organizations—most of which will only represent Petitioners: the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project (DCVLP)Ayuda (for immigrants), Break the Cycle,DVLEAPLegal AidBread for the CityAARP (for the elderly), Our Place DC (for those who have spent at least one day in jail), and OAG. These organizations represent survivors free of charge and are especially knowledgeable about the nature and patterns of domestic violence.

Enroll in the Next Court Watch Project Volunteer Training!

Friday, May 18th at 2:30pm-5:30pm at the DC Superior Courthouse

Come learn how to be a DC DV Court Watch Project Volunteer! Volunteers are needed to sit in court and record data M-F 9-4pm. The schedule is very flexible: you choose the days and hours that work for you! This is a great opportunity for folks interested in supporting survivors of DV or supporting SAFE, learning more about the justice system and court proceedings, thinking about law school, or needing community service hours!

To apply please click here. Have questions? To learn more please email Kate Vander Tuig at kvandertuig@dcsafe.org.

Court Monitoring Programs: Achievements Across The Country

Across the United States, there are several communities that have come together to start court monitoring programs in their court systems. Some are long-term, developed programs, others are more grassroots and focus on specific issues. Many of the programs have been started by direct service organizations like SAFE. What most of these programs have in common is their overarching goal to involve the community in ensuring that the court systems are just and efficient allowing victims of violence the freedom to access services.  In this CWP blog post we will highlight a few examples of successful court monitoring programs.

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC)

Located just south of Seattle, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center has been working to help survivors of sexual assault since 1976.  Like SAFE, KCSARC is a direct services agency that has developed a CourtWatch program in order to become involved in the justice system. In just two years, the program has successfully achieved their goal of  “holding the justice system accountable for its handling of sexual assault and child abuse cases, and to create a more informed public.” While focusing on Sexual Assault Protection Orders specifically, KCSARC’s CourtWatch program is working in both criminal and civil proceedings, allowing them to analyze data on the entire justice system and see the broad picture of where gaps exist for survivors. Recently, after publishing a report on Sexual Assault Protection Orders they were able to start analyzing whether their recommendations were being implemented and what their effect was. They are currently working on sharing these findings with other sexual assault organizations in Washington to be able to collaborate over best practices for advocates, lawyers and law enforcement working with survivors.

WATCH

WATCH is one of the oldest and most developed court monitoring programs in the nation. Based in Minneapolis, WATCH started as its own organization, strictly dedicated to making the “justice system more effective and responsive in handling cases of violence against women and children, and to create a more informed and involved public.”  Volunteers record data in a number of different kinds of court cases, from child abuse to domestic violence to sexual assault, both civil and criminal. In addition to releasing regular reports and recommendations, WATCH has published a number of “how-to” materials for other programs. As the founding member of the National Association of Court Monitoring Programs, WATCH has been a guiding model and resource for many of the court monitoring programs in the US and across the world.

CourtWatch Florida 

Much like WATCH, CourtWatch Florida is an organization solely dedicated to court monitoring. They record data on domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault cases in central Florida to “make sure the justice system holds perpetrators accountable and doesn’t re-victimize the victims”.  This program is volunteer driven and has many leaders in the community participating on the board of directors – from law enforcement, educators and businesspeople to members of the press. Court accountability is encouraged in many ways by CourtWatch Florida; one example is the weekly “watch list” newsletters sent out to identify the cases that volunteers are monitoring, allowing the community to learn about specific cases and how they are proceeding.

All of these programs are great examples of court monitoring having successful outcomes in their respective communities. Their websites are linked in this post and are worthwhile sources of information, resources and ideas. Do you know of other programs of that are having similar successes? Please share in the comments section!

March 2012 Statistics

In the month of March 2012…

DC DV Court Watch Project volunteers sat in on 301 CPO cases.

Where the gender of the parties was recorded:

Petitioners: 197 females, 49 males. Petitioners were female in 80% of the cases

 Respondents59 females, 184 males. Respondents were male in 76% of the cases.

 

Where the perceived race of the parties was recorded:

Petitioners: 180 black/African American, 11 white, 13 Hispanic, 1 “other”

Respondents: 163 black/African American,  7 white, 12 Hispanic, 1 “other”

The racial break-down of cases recorded for parties were disproportionately African-American.

Where the relationship of the parties in the cases was recorded (with some overlap):

34 were married,   

115 previously dated or were romantically involved,

involved stalking, where in which, there was not necessarily a prior relationship,

31 had a child in common,

11 had a partner in common,

16 were relatives,

10 were roommates.

Where the outcomes of the cases were recorded:

Dismissals

Dismissed With Prejudice: 0,

Dismissed Without Prejudice: 92 (60 of which were because Petitioner was absent, 3 of which were due to failure of service multiple times, and 25 of which were at Petitioner’s request–often because of failure to serve Respondent)

CPOs

91 granted (79 were through consent orders or default because Respondent did not appear, and 12 were in contested hearings);

denied (in contested hearing)

 Continuances

107 granted (36 of which were because no service of process had occurred, 19 of which were at Petitioner’s request, 9 of which were at Respondents request, 11 of which were ordered by the judge, and 22 due to trailing criminal case)