Lancaster County's Domestic Violence Court Moving Cases Faster While Protecting Victims.

Author:Hambright, Brett
Position:Special Section on Domestic Violence

OVER 800 CASES have been placed in Lancaster County's Domestic Violence Court since its launch a year ago, and officials say those cases are getting immediate attention leading to quicker accountability of the offender and enhanced protection of the victims.

The specialty court was a long-planned project of the Lancaster County District Attorney's Office and became operational in August 2017 with the cooperation of President Judge Dennis E. Reinaker, the Officer of the Public Defender, Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County, and the Office of Probation and Parole. Funding to create a Central Preliminary Hearing Court for Domestic Violence was awarded to Lancaster County through a Byrne JAG grant administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Domestic Violence Center Court (DVCC) is held every other Thursday in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas. All misdemeanor and felony DV preliminary hearings (absent homicides and serious bodily-injury cases) are held in this forum, so that every DV case is brought before the court within two weeks of the defendant's arraignment.

"Domestic violence creates ripples of trauma and consequences which can ruin, and/or take, the lives of the victim as well as their children," Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said. "This court is designed so we can have a resolution much earlier in these important cases than before. We have, in essence, front-loaded the process to the benefit of everyone involved."

Under the new court model, district attorney victim/witness advocates contact every victim to inform them of the court process, and to get the victim's input on case resolution before any plea negotiations are discussed as required by the Pennsylvania Crime Victims' Bill of Rights.

This information is especially critical for prosecutors to know if the defendant's rehabilitative needs will require specific directives for substance abuse or mental-health issues, as well as necessary contact restrictions for the victim's protection.

The DA's office employs a DV paralegal who not only compiles discovery on the new pending case, but also gathers any prior criminal charges/investigations (whether convicted or not) and any prior Protection from Abuse (PFA) action. That background provides the prosecutor with a documented history of the couple and the defendant's criminal behavior. This discovery is available for the defendant and counsel to review at the preliminary...

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