The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 11 (1998-99)

Trends in Domestic Violence
By Honorable Jane Hird Mitton

In the twelve years since the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 was enacted, the legislature, the Courts, law enforcement agencies, social service agencies, various bar associations, and other public and private groups have struggled to respond, reform and react to its provisions. This article identifies some of these efforts and resultant changes.

The Legislature

The Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 sets forth among its purposes, the recognition of domestic violence as a serious crime against individuals and society, and the expansion of civil and criminal remedies for victims of domestic violence. Since that Enactment, the legislature has further attempted to address a steady increase in reported domestic violence through a variety of means. The new offenses of domestic battery1, unlawful visitation interference2, violation of domestic violence bail bond conditions3, and interfering with the reporting of domestic battery4, have been created.

The penalties for offenses related to domestic violence have also been addressed. As of August, 1993, court supervision was removed as an available disposition for domestic battery5. Mandatory bond conditions restricting access to victims of criminal offenses against family or household members have been enacted6. The violation of these mandatory conditions subsequently became an independent criminal violation. In 1997, the Supreme Court’s misdemeanor bail schedule was amended to eliminate statutory bonds for domestic battery or the violation of an order of protection7. Bond for these offenses must be set by the Court. Penalties for domestic battery and violation of an order of protection, both Class A misdemeanors in the first instance, and Class 4 felonies for a second or subsequent violation, have also been addressed. A second or subsequent violation of an order of protection carries a minimum penalty of 24 hours imprisonment absent the Court’s explicit finding that such a penalty would be "manifestly unjust". A second or subsequent conviction for domestic battery carries a minimum period of 48 consecutive hours of incarceration.8. Other legislative efforts related to domestic violence include the enactment of provisions affecting evidentiary issues9, the requirement that, as a condition of bail bond for domestic battery, the defendant surrender all firearms in his/her possession10, the prohibition against obtaining a FOID card if convicted of domestic battery11, and certain enactments aimed at funding prevention, education and victim service programs through additional court costs assessed against offenders12.

The Courts

As the filing of domestic violence cases has increased, the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court has met the demands of this increase in a number of ways. Since 1993, the Circuit Court has identified domestic violence cases through the assignment of a "DV" designation on all files involving the misdemeanor offenses of domestic battery, violation of orders of protection, unlawful visitation interference, interfering with the reporting of domestic battery, and violation of domestic battery bail bond.

Since 1992, the Circuit Court of DuPage County has devoted one courtroom to all criminal domestic violence cases, thus promoting some level of uniformity and consistency for all participants. Circuit Clerk records reflect a steady increase of an additional one to two hundred new case filings each year since then. Current caseloads show approximately 2,500 new cases annually. Available statistics regarding dispositions on these cases show that during the years 1994 and 1995, approximately 48% of all cases were dismissed by the State’s Attorney by way of nolle prosequi, approximately 48% resulted in a plea of guilty, and approximately 2% resulted in a finding of guilty and 2% in a finding of not guilty. Current statistics show that approximately 63% of all cases for 1998 have been dismissed by way of nolle prosequi, approximately 28% have resulted in a plea of guilty, and approximately 3% resulted in a finding of guilty, and 5% in a finding of not guilty. Dispositions by way of nolle prosequi include those cases dismissed because witnesses failed to appear, or appeared and asserted Fifth Amendment rights, or recanted, as well as cases which may have been later refiled either as misdemeanors or enhanced to felonies13.

Law Enforcement

In mid-December 1997, Sheriff John Zaruba instituted a new victim information system tailored to assist victims of domestic violence. VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) is a confidential, computerized hotline which provides information regarding an inmate’s custody status. The program not only allows computer-aided access to inmate information, but allows individuals to register for automatic telephone notification if an inmate is released, transferred, escapes or dies. The service is available in Spanish or English.

Another innovative program which has been implemented by Sheriff Zaruba makes great strides toward addressing the education and treatment of domestic violence offenders. Prior to 1998, offenders who were held or sentenced to the DuPage County Jail for domestic violence cases had few treatment programs available to them. This fact was even used to the advantage of some offenders who preferred to serve a jail term rather than attend court-ordered counseling. JUST (Justice, Understanding, Serving, Teaching) a not-for-profit agency funded by United Way agencies, provides this educational and treatment program which meets in the jail on a regular basis. It is staffed with qualified professionals and is available free of charge to inmates

Since the late 1980’s, interdisciplinary domestic violence task forces, initiated by the State’s Attorney, have met to develop, implement, and revise coordinated efforts among law enforcement officials, victim and offender services, the bar association, and the judiciary. The result of these efforts has been a countywide protocol adopted in some form by virtually all police departments countywide, as well as the DuPage County Sheriff. The stated goals of this protocol include the promotion of uniformity in arrest, prosecution, and treatment of victims and offenders. Some of the significant features of the protocol include:

1. A mandatory arrest policy for all violations of orders of protection or violations of the 72-hour provisions of a domestic battery bail bond, or in any circumstance where the domestic violence offense constitutes a felony, involves a weapon, or occurs in the officer’s presence;

2. In any mandatory arrest situation, the police officer will sign the complaint if the victim is unwilling, unavailable or reluctant; and

3. State’s Attorney, Joseph Birkett’s policy is to attempt to subpoena all alleged victims and seek a rule to show cause against any victim who fails to appear in court after being personally served with a subpoena to testify.

Social services

In keeping with Socrates’ view that "knowledge is the greatest virtue, and ignorance the greatest evil", numerous public and private social service agencies have developed educational and rehabilitative programs for both offenders and victims of domestic violence. Intervention and education have proven to be effective tools in preventing further occurrence of domestic violence.

Pursuant to legislative directive, the Illinois Department of Public Aid Domestic Violence Advisory Council has developed and published practices and guidelines for abuse intervention programs. In formulating a protocol for both abuse treatment programs, IDPA drew on the talents of a variety of well-respected professionals in the fields of psychology and social work. Program goals include the elimination of violence from relationships and the reduction of episodes of violence. The IDPA’s publications include lists of agencies throughout the state which comply with this protocol.

DuPage County has one such program which it operates through the Department of Psychological Services. That program was one of the first programs of its kind in the country. It boasts a very low rate of recidivism, and has been repeatedly used as a model for other programs nationally.

Counseling which may be sought by offenders or victims of domestic violence can take many forms. Programs range from highly structured formats to informal counseling sessions; they may be publicly or privately funded; they may or may not be associated with religious organizations; they may or may not include the participation of partners or family members. Professionals in the field of social work and psychology disagree on counseling methods. Many professionals, including those who drafted the IDPA protocol, believe that, as a primary tool, family counseling, or any counseling which includes the victim, risks promoting the impression that the victim is at least partially responsible for the offender’s conduct. Currently, ongoing research involving different treatment programs throughout the State seeks to track the effectiveness of the protocol in achieving its goals.

As diverse, however, as programs may be, most tend to have common teachings and common goals. Most programs focus on identifying the offenders’ behavior and its source. Treatment providers almost universally seek to have offenders accept responsibility for their behavior, and recognize that anger is a chosen response to a situation and not something that the victim has chosen.

Notwithstanding many common elements of the different programs, there exists a movement to develop a statewide certification process for domestic violence programs, just as one exists in the area of drug and alcohol counseling. In addition, where traditional treatment programs have been designed to accommodate male offenders and female victims, future programs must address a growing number of female offenders.

In summary, with the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 in its twelfth year, a number of trends and patterns have become evident. In response, the legislature, court services, law enforcement, and social services have adapted, and continue to adapt in order to confront the increase in domestic violence. In the years to come, as more data is collected and new patterns develop, we look forward to even more effective and lasting methods to address domestic violence issues in our society.

1 720 ILCS 5/12-3.2

2 720 ILCS 5/10-5.5

3 720 ILCS 5/32-10(b), and (a-5)

4 720 ILCS 5/12-6.3

5 730 ILCS 5/5-6-1 (c)

6 725 ILCS 5/110-10(c)

7 Supreme Court Rule 527(d)

Honorable Jane Hird Mitton is a Presiding Judge in the Domestic Relations Division. She received her Undergraduate Degree in 1980 from the University of Minnesota and her Law Degree in 1983 from Northern Illinois University.

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