From Enterprise News (www.wickedlocal.com)
By Maria Papadopoulos
BROCKTON – Over a nine-month period in Plymouth County, just 10 out of the 126 cases of strangulation or suffocation of a family member or household member have resulted in convictions.
In Bristol County, just 18 defendants out of 159 were convicted of charges under a law that went into effect last summer.
And in Norfolk County?
Ten defendants were convicted of the charge – out of 83 cases where a defendant was accused of strangulation under the law.
Those low conviction rates are from preliminary data, compiled by the state’s 11 district attorneys and spanning the nine months, from Aug. 8 of last year to May 31 after new domestic violence legislation became law.
A sweeping overhaul of the state’s domestic violence laws last August included two new charges intended to help domestic violence victims – strangulation and assault and battery on a family or household member.
Across the state, the data showed that more than 70 percent of defendants escaped convictions in cases of strangulation and assault and battery on a family or household member that were closed in the nine-month period.
“The numbers are the numbers. When you look at the domestic violence cases, they still remain very difficult cases to prosecute,” Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz said. “You’re dealing with a particularly vulnerable group of victims. It’s not unusual for a victim to decline to go forward.”
Prosecutors said several of the strangulation cases brought under the new law still are pending in court.
But the low conviction rate of accused abusers has one advocate blasting the state and prosecutors for not doing enough to help victims.
Domestic violence cases fail, causing incident rates to rise, because Massachusetts has a “disturbing policy of letting victims ‘drop the charges,’” said Wendy Murphy, a nationally recognized expert on sex crimes and a former prosecutor in Middlesex County.
“It’s really a way to blame the victim herself if she ends up dead because prosecutors say, ‘I wanted to put the guy in jail but the victim dropped the charge,’” Murphy said.
All prosecutors should have “no-drop” policies in place because studies show that they save lives, said Murphy.
“The embarrassing data in Massachusetts reflects what everyone has known for many years – that this is a state where men can viciously rape and abuse women with impunity,” Murphy said.
A review of the data shows that over the nine-month period in Plymouth, Norfolk and Bristol counties combined:
Prosecutors got a conviction in just 11 percent of the 3,163 cases they closed involving the assault of a family member. That came to 361 convictions.
In charges of strangulation, district attorneys reported disposing of 111 of the 368 cases or charges. They got a guilty plea, guilty verdict or admission to sufficient facts in just 38 of them, or 10 percent.
Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn said it is too soon to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the new domestic violence law and the conviction rates in the district attorneys’ report, noting that there is nothing to which the number can be compared.
“The law has been in effect for less than one year and many of the cases are still pending,” Quinn said. “Police are still being trained and informed of the specific provision of the new law.”
Reach Maria Papadopoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MariaP_ENT.
Posted on July 14, 2015 at 9:26 pm