How NY Domestic Violence Prevention Tool Fails

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Friday, June 18, 2021 - 6:02am

Defendants presumed guilty rather than innocent is an everyday occurrence in a corner of the justice system, say New York public defenders and domestic-violence experts, reports the New York Times. A temporary protection order, or stay-away order, is a well-intentioned pretrial precaution to shield people from abusive partners but it is issued so regularly in city courts that it has become a sentence unto itself. Assemblyman Dan Quart of Manhattan said its overuse amounts to a "family separation policy." Because the vast majority of misdemeanor domestic-violence cases end up getting dismissed, the temporary orders rarely become permanent. In criminal court in the Bronx, which has by far the city’s highest rate of domestic-violence complaints, fewer than four percent of temporary protection orders were converted to permanent ones last year, the state court system said.

Yet the orders typically remain in place for months. And the consequences for people with low incomes and few resources are often disastrous, long after the underlying criminal charge has vanished. Public defenders described case after case where people lose their jobs, their homes, their rental assistance. Immigrants are detained for months. Displaced people sleeping in their cars get attacked and beaten. Families are torn apart. The problem has roots late in the last century when New York, like other states, enacted mandatory-arrest laws for domestic-violence cases. That protective impulse is now colliding with another wave of criminal-justice reforms aimed at making the system less punitive, like the 2019 New York law effectively ending bail and pretrial detention for most misdemeanors.

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