Felony Charge Often Reduced for Domestic Abusers

An analysis of cases in Travis County found that most felony domestic violence defendants had their charges reduced.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that in a review of more than 900 felony cases from October 2013 to October 2014, 65 percent were either dropped or pleaded to a lesser charge. Nearly half of the defendants involved had previously been accused of felony family violence.

State lawmakers have made intimate partner strangulation and suffocation felony crimes, and given prosecutors the option to seek felony charges in other cases where the defendant has previous convictions.

Despite that push, prosecutors throughout Texas face longstanding challenges in prosecuting abusers.

Victims in many cases retract their allegations under pressure from an attacker or family members. A prison term might also put financial pressure on a household, leading some victims to try to drop charges.

"These are complicated cases, and the truth is many victims and offenders will continue to be connected because of shared children," said Noel Bridget Busch-Armendariz, an associate dean at the University of Texas' School of Social Work. "It's not so simple to say, `We are going to prosecute them all and put them in jail,' because these are not just emotional connections, but financial connections."

Prosecutor Kelsey McKay says she tells police officers to try to get everything they will need at trial the day of the assault, "as if they are never going to see the victim again."

"That takes the pressure off the victim and takes the power away from the abuser," she said.

Just more than 1 percent of the more than 7,300 domestic violence cases in the last decade went to trial in Travis County, according to the Statesman. But many cases are handled with an agreement before trial and are more difficult to assess through statistics, experts said.

"There are some cases where you clearly need the victim to proceed, and there are some cases where you don't," said Margaret Bassett, a domestic violence counselor.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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