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Angela Corsilles, No-Drop Policies in the Prosecution of Domestic Violence Cases: Guarantee to Action or Dangerous Solution?, 63 Fordham L. Rev. 853 (1994).

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In this article, Corsilles discusses no-drop policies in domestic abuse cases.  Rather than permitting prosecutors to drop domestic violence charges due to the uncooperation of the witness, no-drop policies ensure that cases will proceed despite victim nonparticipation.  Corsilles examines why and how prosecutors drop domestic violence cases, why many jurisdictions have adopted no-drop policies, and analyzes the benefits and drawbacks to such a procedure.
      Different jurisdictions vary their no-drop policies.  The policy may be a complex, written arrangement, or may just be an oral policy of the office.  No-drop policies establish that in domestic violence cases, the state, not the victim of the abuse, is the party to charge the abuser.  The prosecutor controls the prosecution, and the victim can no longer decide to drop the case.  No-drop policies also signal to the community that domestic violence is a serious crime and will be treated as such.  Many no-drop policies provide for practices to be implemented in cases in which the victim declines to support the charges.  Policies may make use of a domestic violence panel, subpoenas for an unwilling victim, categories in which a prosecution will never be dropped, or a special advocate program.  States themselves can pass legislation to encourage the use of no-drop policies.  States that have taken such a step include Utah, Wisconsin, Florida, and Minnesota.
      Prosecutors have long had the discretion to choice which cases to prosecute and those in which to dismiss charges.  Many factors can play a role in the prosecutor's choice to drop a domestic violence charge.  Some prosecutors do not understand the harms of domestic abuse or feel that the state should not intervene in such cases.  The belief that victims will change their mind about prosecution also effects the decision to drop cases.  Other reasons include the goal of achieving higher conviction rates or conserving prosecutorial resources.  The ways in which prosecutors can drop the case or encourage the victim to dismiss the case also vary.  By placing the victim in charge of pursuing the case, the victim is put in a position continue to undergo the same traumatic decision and may feel responsible for prosecuting the batterer.  Other tactics such as blaming the victim during questioning or giving unclear legal device may influence a victim's decision to drop domestic abuse charges.  Charging the defendant with a lesser crime or recommending a time to cool off can also send the signal that the prosecutor does not view domestic violence cases seriously.
      The noncooperation of victims in domestic violence cases also create the need for no-drop policies.  Some victims feel again overwhelmed by the court system.  Others are caught in a cycle of violence, feel relief at a moment of reconciliation, and chose not to continue prosecution.  Many women also face fear of her batterer, a victim-blaming environment in the legal system, or have other factors such as children to be concerned with.
      The benefits to a no-drop policy include a change in the batterer's conduct towards the victim.  In no-drop jurisdictions, some defendants agree to plead guilty to the charge once they determine that their case will not be dropped.  This policy also creates a deterrent to future batterers.  With increased focus on police investigations and evidence rules, prosecutors are finding ways to prosecute domestic violence cases without the testimony of the victim.  Furthermore, no-drop polices also convey the message that domestic violence is not tolerated in the state, and will be dealt with severely.
      The drawbacks to implementing a no-drop policy for domestic abuse cases is that it removes some of the prosecutorial discretion.  Others argue that no-drop policies may broach the division between branches of the government, waste prosecutorial resources, or further subject the women to more victimization.
      Corsilles argues that studies show that the benefits of no-drop polices outweigh the disadvantages.  Although convictions may initially decrease at the onset, successful convictions increase the longer the policy is used.  No-drop polices can also lead to an increased number of plea agreements and actually encourage victims to testify.  Corsilles urges that all states should implement measures to encourage no-drop policies in domestic violence cases.  Furthermore, a written policy especially encourages the cooperation of the prosecutor, the police, and the community.  Such no-drop policies provide the protection victims need.

Article Summary by: Corrie Noir
Wake Forest University School of Law 1999


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