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Magistrates' Attitudes to Domestic Violence and Sentencing Options

NCJ Number
Howard Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 41 Issue: 4 Dated: September 2002 Pages: 348-363
Elizabeth Gilchrist; Jacqueline Blissett
Date Published
September 2002
16 pages
This article compared the sentencing decisions of magistrates in cases involving domestic violence versus cases involving stranger violence.
The authors explain that the attitudes of magistrates toward domestic violence are crucial because the majority of criminal cases will be heard and finalized within magistrates’ courts. In order to explore magistrates’ understanding of, and attitudes toward, domestic violence, the authors presented 67 magistrates with 6 vignettes involving violent incidents committed by either a stranger or a domestic partner. The magistrates considered these vignettes and suggested a sentence for the offender. The results revealed that magistrates consider domestic violence to be very different from stranger violence. More specifically, the results show that when medical attention was required for the victim of a domestic situation, the magistrates were more likely to recommend a harsher penalty. However, when alcohol was involved in a domestic situation, the magistrates considered it to be an excuse for violent behavior. In fact, a review of the qualitative data suggests that magistrates often sought some form of explanation for the perpetrators’ behavior in the domestic situation. These explanations often centered on blaming the victim or excusing the perpetrator because he had been drinking. Magistrates did not search for explanations of the violent behavior committed by strangers, revealing a difference in they way they viewed the two types of violence. In conclusion, the authors suggest that no amount of community intervention in domestic violence situations will produce desirable results unless the criminal justice system response shows that this type of violence will not be tolerated. Tables, references, appendix