The Ramsey County Attorney's Office and the City of Saint Paul formed a Joint Domestic Abuse Prosecution Unit to focus on domestic assaults where children are present. This groundbreaking partnership between local prosecution offices became operational on September 18, 2000.
Children are present in 70 percent of domestic abuse cases prosecuted in St. Paul. Sometimes children are witnesses--but sometimes they are direct targets. Sadly, the child victims of domestic violence often become abusers themselves, perpetuating a tragic cycle. The Joint Domestic Abuse Prosecution Unit responds to mounting research and concern about the impact of domestic violence on children. The new unit seeks to break this cycle by:
- Aggressively prosecuting all levels of domestic assault and seeking tough consequences for offenders.
- Connecting adult and child victims with services to help them overcome the impact of domestic violence.
The Joint Domestic Abuse Prosecution Unit unifies a fragmented system for prosecuting domestic assaults involving children.
Historically, the responsibility for prosecuting domestic assaults involving children had been split between the Saint Paul City Attorney's Office and the Ramsey County Attorney's Office. The City Attorney's Office prosecuted all misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases of domestic violence against adults. The County Attorney's Office handled the felony-level domestic assaults, as well as child maltreatment and child protection cases. This division of jurisdiction sometimes limited both offices' ability to effectively prosecute domestic violence while considering the interests of both adult and child victims.
The Joint Domestic Abuse Prosecution Unit now combines all prosecution functions in adult domestic violence cases where children are present at the time of the abuse. The prosecutors in the unit review all levels of domestic assault from misdemeanors to felonies. The attorneys are cross-deputized as Assistant County Attorneys and Assistant City Attorneys. Thus, police present reports on domestic assault cases involving children to a unified prosecution team which ensures that cases are charged at the appropriate severity level without regard to jurisdictional responsibilities.
The unit includes a victim/witness advocate who works with victims and their children, providing support throughout the prosecution process and coordinating referrals to appropriate community-based service and advocacy agencies. These referrals constitute a key prevention strategy of the unit. By intervening with the victims and connecting them with services, the unit helps victims overcome the short-term and long-term impact of family violence. In the past, because of a lack of resources, no advocate was available to make these critical referrals in the vast majority of domestic abuse cases.
The Joint Domestic Abuse Prosecution Unit was developed in collaboration with key stakeholders to address the goal of reducing exposure to domestic violence. Valuable input was provided by community-based domestic abuse agencies, the Saint Paul Police Department, Ramsey County District Court, and the Community Human Services and Community Corrections departments of Ramsey County. The unit continues to work in close collaboration with these agencies and organizations.
A key feature of the project is an evaluation of the effectiveness of such a collaborative prosecution unit in domestic abuse cases involving children.
Evaluation of Joint Domestic Abuse Prosecution Unit. (PDF)