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Cuyahoga County Launches New Domestic Violence Docket

About 400 domestic violence cases involving strangulation or a firearm went through Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas just last year. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
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A high-risk domestic violence court starts taking cases Monday in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

The U.S. Department of Justice is funding the specialized court for three years with $1 million and it will take 50 cases each year.

The court categorizes felony domestic violence cases that involve either strangulation or a firearm as high risk.

“We’re taking 50 a year, but 400 of our cases in our felony-level court meet this criteria, and that’s based on our numbers from last year,” said Judge Sherrie Miday, who is overseeing the docket. “This is a serious problem when there’s a strangulation allegation and use of a firearm.”

A 2007 study by the National Institutes of Health found women who had been strangled by an intimate partner were more than seven times as likely to go on to be killed by a partner. A 2003 study found that the presence of a firearm in the household made the victim of domestic abuse as much as nine times more likely to be killed.

The court will include a dedicated prosecutor, public defender, probation officer and victim advocate to monitor each case. The Begun Center for Violence Prevention, Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University will evaluate its effectiveness.

According to Miday, if the specialized docket succeeds, the goal is to expand and move more cases into it.

“We’re not letting things fall through the cracks, which a lot of times they do and it’s unfortunate. When details fall through the cracks, people die,” Miday said.

Miday pointed to details a specialized docket and dedicated personnel can address like fully enforcing protection orders, so if an accused abuser defies a court order, they are brought in front of a judge quickly.

And a dedicated victim advocate can help keep accusers from participation in the case.

“It may be out of fear. It may be out of wanting to reunify with the offender. It may be because we’ve asked her to come to court so many times she’s on the verge of losing her job,” Miday said. “Whatever the reason is, there’s a huge drop off when it comes to victim participation in these cases.”

And probation officers assigned to the case could follow up with a court order to turn in firearms.

“It’s a difficult piece to address because when you ask somebody if they have a gun, all they have to say is ‘no,’” Miday said. “So it’s a sensitive piece that we’re trying to work out.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.