Muskingum County Prosecutor
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, March 24, 2023
Understanding domestic violence prosecution in Muskingum County
Domestic Violence cases are some of the most difficult and oftentimes frustrating matters handled by the prosecutor’s office. A combination of factors including society’s lack of understanding of domestic violence, the struggles a victim faces in leaving their abuser and a general misunderstanding of what is acceptable relationship behavior drive the challenges of addressing domestic violence cases. Never is abuse, mental or physical, acceptable.
In the past 15 months, the Muskingum County Prosecutor’s Office filed felony charges in 34 cases of domestic violence. Although one case is still awaiting trial, all other cases resulted in convictions. The average sentence for felony domestic violence offenders was 19 months of prison. All but five of the domestic violence offenders have been sentenced. Of those sentenced, only four received a sentence other than prison, one receiving 315 days of jail, one receiving 75 days in jail and the other two being placed on probation.
For many victims of domestic violence, the crime is ongoing and involves their safety, their children, their home and their way of life. Extracting oneself from a violent relationship is a process, not merely a decision.
This process happens for many reasons. Oftentimes, abusers choose to target persons with specific vulnerabilities. In other cases, victims stay in an attempt to protect children, or due to the economic hardship which would be brought on by separation. The emotional connection between partners is another motivating factor for victims to remain with their abusers in the hope that the abuse will stop. Sometimes there is a fear of weak or “he said, she said” evidence since domestic violence often occurs behind closed doors.
These pressures can at times influence a victim of violence to want to walk away from, or abandon, the prosecution of their abuser. The Muskingum County Prosecutor’s Office takes up prosecution in the name of the State, not for any particular victim, and this affects the office’s approach to domestic violence offenses. The office’s policy is to maintain prosecution for crimes that have occurred, whether or not the victim wishes for the prosecution to proceed.
This approach eliminates the moral hazard of offenders attempting to pressure or manipulate a victim related to their charges. It also removes a major stressor from victims who often feel responsible for outcomes that an abuser has brought upon him or herself. With this policy, domestic abusers can direct their displeasure of being prosecuted at the prosecutor’s office, rather than at their victim.
The justice system’s goals in addressing domestic violence are to keep victims safe, to discourage abusers from continuing to abuse, to provide punishment for persons who abuse, and to rehabilitate abusers into productive, non-violent persons.
The legal system addresses domestic violence in three phases. First-time domestic offenses are misdemeanors of the first degree. Misdemeanor offenses are crimes for which someone can only face time in the county jail, rather than state prison. In the case of domestic violence, the maximum term is 180 days. Other sanctions are available as well, such as probation, alcohol and anger management treatment and mental health treatment.
After a person has been convicted of domestic violence, any future domestic abuse is a felony of the fourth degree. A third instance of domestic violence is a felony of the third degree. Felonies of the fourth degree carry potential prison terms of up to 18 months, where a felony of the third degree carries a potential punishment of 36 months.
The Muskingum County Prosecutor’s Office approaches domestic violence cases with the mindset that first offenders are the group of persons who are the most likely to benefit from treatment or alternatives to incarceration. Once a person has been convicted of domestic abuse and returns to court for a felony case, the central focus is on punitive or punishment sanctions.
The Muskingum County Prosecutor’s Office is proud to aggressively represent the people of Muskingum County in the pursuit of justice against domestic abusers. Persons who are experiencing domestic violence should call 911 to report their abuse, and female victims of abuse may also contact Transitions, Muskingum County’s Domestic Violence Women’s Shelter, at 740-454-3213 for immediate assistance in escaping a violent situation.
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