The Morning Report
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Analysis: Dumanis and Griffin’s editorial reminded San Diegans to watch out for signs of domestic violence and explained how law enforcement and social service agencies are addressing it locally. To measure the problem, they highlighted these statistics:
In San Diego County, there were more than 17,000 reports of domestic violence made to law enforcement last year. The District Attorney’s Office carefully reviewed more than 6,000 domestic violence-related cases during 2009.
Previous reports have put the countywide number of domestic violence reports near 20,000, so the first number didn’t surprise me. But since I’d never seen the second statistic before, I asked the District Attorney’s Office to double-check the number and figure out how many cases didn’t lead to criminal charges being filed, which wasn’t explained in the editorial.
Crime statistics come in all sorts of sizes. The first number referred broadly to how often police and other law enforcement agencies reported domestic violence happening in the county. Then the second referred to a narrower pool of cases that police felt merited prosecution. I was hoping to get a third, even narrower statistic for the number ending up in court.
Patrick McGrath, who oversees the office’s Family Protection Division, said prosecutors reviewed exactly 6,457 domestic violence cases last year and 2,801 resulted in charges. That means less than half of the domestic violence complaints submitted to prosecutors made it to court.
“Why so few?” I asked McGrath over the phone.
“Corroboration,” he emphasized. “Particularly in the domestic violence realm, because this often happens behind closed doors, it makes it hard to prove.”
The victim’s claims lack witnesses or physical evidence, and in some cases, victims change their stories out of love or fear for their partner. Those setbacks make it more difficult to meet the prosecution’s burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, McGrath said.
The key, he added, is carefully documenting the crime — pictures of injuries that might heal before a trial or police interviews with children in the house. McGrath said prosecutors try to approach cases with this question in mind: “Can we prove what happened even if the person changes their story?”
“In order to bring alive the details in court, we need the details of what happened that day,” he added.
Beyond corroboration, McGrath said some domestic violence cases aren’t pursued in court because prosecutors question whether the criminal justice system needs to get involved. If police break up a couple pushing outside a bar at 2 a.m., is that something that needs to go to court? McGrath asked hypothetically.
I’ll steer clear on that question — please express your thoughts below — but back to the statement’s accuracy. Since the number of cases reviewed checks out, we’ve called this one true.