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April 01, 2014

Dropped Charges Do Not Mean Dropped Cases: Going to Trial in a DV Case Without the Victim’s Testimony

By Melissa Mourges, Martha Bashford, and Audrey Moore

Judges see a wide variety of domestic violence cases every year, ranging from verbal abuse, to stalking, to violent assaults and homicides. The statistics are grim: The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that more than 1,000 women are murdered by a husband or boyfriend every year.1 However, many domestic violence cases never go forward because the victim, for whatever reason, refuses to come to court.

Prosecutors are intimately familiar with the phenomenon of the “evaporating victim” in domestic violence cases, where the (typically female) victim who has found the courage to report being abused nonetheless refuses to cooperate with authorities as the case progresses through the courts. Faced with the strong possibility that the victim will not be cooperative by the time of trial, many cases are disposed of with pleas and sentences that do not reflect the severity of the underlying conduct. This does not have to be happening.

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