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Phoenix court data finds domestic violence cases dismissed

August 11, 2009

Domestic violence is Phoenix’s most commonly reported violent crime, but many suspects have their cases dismissed almost immediately after arrest, and many others are freed from jail without the supervision that a standard risk-analysis says they should be getting.

These are among the findings of an analysis by Morrison Institute for Public Policy of data compiled for Phoenix Municipal Court on misdemeanor domestic violence (DV) suspects booked into Maricopa County jails over two years between July 2006 and June 2008.

They are reported in “Risk Management: Assessing Domestic Violence Suspects Arrested in Phoenix” a new brief in Morrison Institute’s online series, Criminal Justice Issues in Arizona.

Phoenix Municipal Court is Arizona’s largest limited-jurisdiction court and one of the 10 busiest municipal courts in the nation. From 2006 to 2008, the court sponsored a “risk assessment” project in which jail staff interviewed misdemeanor DV suspects with a questionnaire designed to predict whether the suspect would reoffend while out on bail. The aim of the project, which compiled interviews with more than 6,800 suspects, was to help judges decide what sort of release conditions, if any, should be imposed on DV suspects seeking release before trial. 

One finding was that 43% of DV suspects had their cases dismissed shortly after being arrested and brought to jail, and before going to court. Experts offer various explanations for this high dismissal rate, but the questions remains whether it reflects a cost-effective use of police and court resources.  

Another finding was that about 77% of these suspects should be supervised while on bail to ensure that they follow bail guidelines, show up for court, and aren’t a danger to the community, according to the risk-screening analysis. But the screening and supervision programs were cancelled for financial reasons. If the screening analysis is accurate, this means that every year around 1,500 Phoenix DV suspects who should be supervised while on bail are not being supervised.