REMARKS

of

CHIEF JUSTICE BURLEY B. MITCHELL, JR.

SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA

to the

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE COUNCIL

September 16, 1997

Sanford, NC

10:30 AM

 

 

GOOD MORNING. I AM PLEASED TO BE HERE WITH YOU TODAY FOR THE KICK-OFF OF YOUR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE COUNCIL. I WAS WITH SOME OF YOU LAST SPRING IN DURHAM AT THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SUMMIT AND IT IS WONDERFUL TO SEE THAT THIS COMMUNITY IS TAKING ACTION TO FOLLOW UP ON THE IDEAS AND ISSUES RAISED THERE LAST YEAR.

AS MANY OF YOU KNOW I HAVE INITIATED A SERIOUS EFFORT TO RELAY THE PROGRESS WE MAKE IN OUR COURTS TO THE PUBLIC. I BELIEVE MY DUTY AS CHIEF JUSTICE IS TO RESTORE THE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN OUR COURTS AND TO SEE TO IT THAT THE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IS JUSTIFIED BY EFFICIENT COURTS AND COURTS THAT WORK BETTER FOR WITNESSES AND VICTIMS.

ONE WAY IN WHICH PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN THE COURTS WILL BE BOLSTERED IS BY OUR COURT OFFICIALS PARTICIPATING IN COMMUNITY DISCUSSIONS SUCH AS THIS. THEN THE COURTS CAN BE PART OF THE CURE AND NOT THE CAUSE. IT IS ONLY THROUGH TEAMS THAT COMPLEX ISSUES CAN REALLY BE ADDRESSED AND RESULTS ACHIEVED. I AM DELIGHTED TO SEE THE DIVERSITY OF YOUR TEAM HERE. BUSINESS OWNERS, COURT OFFICIALS, LAW ENFORCEMENT, COMMUNITY ACTION AND CIVIC GROUPS, MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS, AND EDUCATORS ARE ALL VITAL TO THIS EFFORT.

AS YOU ENGAGE IN DEVELOPING AN ACTION PLAN TODAY ONE THEME WILL BE RESOUNDING -- THE PREVALENCE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN OUR SOCIETY. EVERYDAY WE HEAR OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN STALKED, INJURED, MURDERED BY A PAST OR PRESENT FAMILY MEMBER. WE ALL KNOW TOO WELL THAT THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESULTS FROM MORE THAN EMOTION. IT RESULTS FROM STRONG ISSUES OF ECONOMIC POWER AND CONTROL WITHIN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS. OUR COURTS HEAR THESE CASES, AND ALL TOO OFTEN IT IS TOO LATE FOR THE VICTIM. JUST LAST YEAR, WE ESTIMATE THAT OVER 70,000 MISDEMEANOR CASES WERE INITIATED IN OUR COURTS FOR MATTERS RELATED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. OF THOSE CASES, ABOUT 30,000 WERE ASSAULT ON A FEMALE. THESE NUMBERS ARE JUST ESTIMATES - THERE ARE MANY CHARGES THAT FALL IN THE CATEGORY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - BUT A GREAT MANY CASES WHEN YOU CONSIDER THE VICTIMS AND THE FAMILIES AFFECTED BY THIS BEHAVIOR.

ACCORDING TO THE NATIONAL COALITION AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

NOT TOO LONG AGO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE WAS NOT VIEWED AS A SERIOUS ISSUE. EVEN IN SEVERE CASES WHERE DEATH OR PERMANENT INJURY RESULTED RARELY WAS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SEEN AS A VIOLENT CRIME. WE ALL TENDED TO TURN OUR HEADS AND REMARK THAT THIS WAS AN ISSUE BEST MEDIATED IN PRIVATE AS A FAMILY MATTER AND AN ISSUE BEST ADDRESSED OUTSIDE PUBLIC VIEW.

OUR LACK OF RESPONSE TO THIS ISSUE ENABLED THE BEHAVIOR TO CONTINUE AND GET WORSE. TODAY, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CUTS ACROSS EVERY SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND ETHNIC GROUP. IT TEARS APART FAMILIES AND DESTROYS COMMUNITIES. YOUR TEAM NOW HAS THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF SO MANY FAMILIES IN THIS AREA.

BY EDUCATING AND INFORMING WE CAN CHANGE THE MINDSET WHICH DRIVES THIS VIOLENCE. EVERY DAY, HUNDREDS OF VICTIMS COME BEFORE OUR COURTS IN AN ATTEMPT TO DEAL WITH THE VIOLENCE. AS EFFORTS HAVE ENSUED TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC ABOUT BOTH THE CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, WE NOW UNDERSTAND THAT THERE IS A BROAD RANGE OF BEHAVIORS, ADDICTIONS, AND ABUSES. DESPITE THE EFFORTS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE TO INCREASE PUBLIC AWARENESS AND CREATE COMMUNITY ACTION, MANY MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS ARE STILL PREVALENT. THE MYTHS CREATE DEVASTATING EFFECTS ON FAMILIES INVOLVED IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. CHILDREN ACCEPT AND LEARN THE BEHAVIOR; CHILDREN WATCH AND RECOIL FROM THE BEHAVIOR; AND, CHILDREN’S LIVES ARE SHAPED BY VIOLENCE AND ABUSE. WE MUST MAKE PERPETRATORS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS IN ORDER TO BREAK THE CYCLE PASSED ON TO OUR CHILDREN.

AS OUR SOCIETY HAS BECOME MORE EDUCATED ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ESPECIALLY THE LONG TERM EFFECTS, WE SEE AN INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES. THE OUTCOME OF THESE CASES SENDS A MESSAGE TO THE OFFENDERS. BUT THE MANNER WITH WHICH JUDGES AND OTHER COURT OFFICIALS HANDLE THESE MATTERS IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE SENTENCE. AND IS AS IMPORTANT TO THE VICTIM AS TO THE DEFENDANT.

WHAT CAN YOUR COUNCIL DO TO DETER AND BREAK THE CYCLE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE? DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS NOT JUST A FAMILY OR EXTENDED FAMILY MATTER, IT IS A COMMUNITY PROBLEM. THE EFFECTS ARE FELT IN BUSINESSES, COURTS, LAW ENFORCEMENT, AND THROUGHOUT THE COMMUNITY. THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL IS EDUCATION. COMMUNITIES NEED TO UNDERSTAND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, OUR COURT OFFICIALS NEED CONTINUING EDUCATION IN ORDER TO OBSERVE AND RESPOND TO EVIDENCE WITH A FULL UNDERSTANDING OF THE ARRAY OF ISSUES. LAW ENFORCEMENT NEEDS CONTINUING EDUCATION IN HOW TO HANDLE THESE MATTERS.

IN OUR COURTS, WE MUST BE SENSITIVE TO THE NEEDS OF THE PARTIES AND WITNESSES, AND REDEDICATE OURSELVES TO THE PROPOSITION THAT COURTS EXIST TO SERVE PEOPLE. WE MUST ALSO IMPROVE THE SPEED AND EFFICIENCY OF OUR CRIMINAL COURTS TO THE EXTENT WE CAN DO SO WITHOUT SACRIFICING JUSTICE.

WITHIN THE COURTS, WE ARE WORKING TO ENACT INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO SOCIETY’S PROBLEMS. WE HAVE SEEN THAT THERE IS A DIRECT RELATIONSHIP IN MANY SITUATIONS BETWEEN SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. IN MOST CASES WE HEAR THERE IS A SUBSTANCE ABUSE PROBLEM - DRUGS OR ALCOHOL - WITH THE DEFENDANT. AND SADLY, MANY VICTIMS TURN TO SUBSTANCE ABUSE AS A MECHANISM FOR COPING WITH THE VIOLENCE AND PAIN. WE CURRENTLY HAVE PILOT PROJECTS IN FIVE DISTRICTS FOR SPECIAL DRUG TREATMENT COURTS TO IMPLEMENT SPECIAL COURTS TO HEAR SUBSTANCE ABUSE - RELATED CRIMES. IN THESE COURTS, SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT IS AN INCENTIVE AND REQUIREMENT FOR DISMISSAL OF CRIMINAL CHARGES. SO FAR IT APPEARS COURTS OF THIS TYPE HAVE PROVEN VERY SUCCESSFUL IN ADDRESSING SUBSTANCE ABUSE ISSUES IN RURAL AND URBAN AREAS ACROSS THE COUNTRY. TO THE DEGREE THERE IS A CONNECTION BETWEEN SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, THESE COURTS WILL HAVE A POSITIVE EFFECT ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

WE MUST ALSO LOOK LONG AND HARD AT THE POSSIBILITY OF DESIGNING FAMILY COURTS. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES ARE UNIQUE IN THAT THE VICTIM OFTEN HAS ONE FOOT IN CIVIL COURT AND ONE FOOT IN CRIMINAL COURT. A FAMILY COURT COMBINING ALL OF THE ELEMENTS OF DOMESTIC CASELOAD COULD STREAMLINE THE PROCESS AND MAKE IT EASIER FOR OUR VICTIMS.

FINALLY, OUR COURTS HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO SOCIETY TO PROVIDE POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. WE MUST HOLD PERPETRATORS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS. WE MUST PROTECT VICTIMS.

AGAIN I COMMEND YOU EACH FOR YOUR COMMITMENT TO THIS ISSUE AND YOUR COMMITMENT TO ACTION TO REDUCE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. WE MUST ALL WORK TOGETHER TO ESTABLISH NEW STANDARDS OF BEHAVIOR TO BE ADHERED TO BY SOCIETY.