CLEVELAND — A new court aimed at preventing homicides among intimate partners is near full capacity just six months after the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas started screening felony domestic violence cases for its docket.
The High-Risk Domestic Violence court currently has 45 active cases, according to Judge Sherrie Miday, who oversees the docket. It has the capacity for 50.
Out of the 45 cases, 36 cases are in the pretrial stage; the other nine defendants have been sentenced to community control, according to Erin Becker the Coordinator for the High-Risk Domestic Violence Court.
The former Cleveland prosecutor advocated for the county to create the specialized docket for offenders deemed the most at-risk of murdering their intimate partners.
“From before I was elected to the bench, I knew we had to do things different,” she said.
Why you should care
Criteria for eligibility only includes cases where a firearm was allegedly used during the crime or the alleged victim was strangled. Research has shown those types of incidents are the most likely to later result in an intimate partner homicide.
On average, there are approximately 16 deaths linked to domestic violence and close to 7,500 reported incidents in Cuyahoga County each year. These numbers were gathered prior to the pandemic.
"Strangulation is really the last warning shot before a homicide," Miday said. "We're trying to prevent these homicides and the best way to do it is by identifying the highest risk factors."
How it works
The court uses a team approach to work towards its goals of improving victim safety and increasing offender accountability.
There is a dedicated prosecutor, two public defenders and a pre-trial probation officer in order to provide consistency. The pre-trial probation officer reviews cases for eligibility and supervises offenders on the docket to find out if they are following the conditions of their bond.
The court's team also includes a dedicated advocate from the county's Witness Victim Service Center to provide services to the alleged victims, including counseling, housing, and safety plans.
Defendants who released on bond are required to wear a GPS monitor, maintain full-time employment, avoid drugs and alcohol, and have no contact with their alleged victims.
The defendants are also often ordered to undergo counseling or treatment for anger management problems and addiction, as well as participate in a batterer's intervention program.
"We have a violent population on this docket," Miday said. "If we’re able to assist them with resources and change behaviors, we’re absolutely going to do that."
However, defendants must follow the court's strict rules to stay on the docket.
"This is not a treatment court," Miday said. "They know very well coming into it and we make sure that they know, that there’s no guarantee of probation on this docket and that violent offenders may get sent to prison."
As a result, five cases have been terminated from the docket. Two defendants were immediately sentenced to prison, two defendants were sentenced to prison after violating community control sanctions, and one defendant's case was transferred to Mental Health Court, Becker reported.
The Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas received a $1 million three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to create the special court docket.