Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Criminology and Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Emily M. Wright

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Rojek


Since the 1970s, there has been a proliferation of research on domestic violence (DV). The majority of research, however, has focused on the correlates of DV and far fewer studies have examined the criminal justice system's approach to addressing DV. This is particularly concerning given that historically, the criminal justice system was rooted in English Common Law and tolerant of marital discipline to maintain household stability. Through the efforts of women's rights advocates, policy makers began devising innovative strategies for responding to DV, including provisions for mandatory arrests, no-drop policies, and the establishment of specialized DV courts. Although there has been an increase in the number of studies examining the criminal justice system's response to DV, a limited number of these are devoted to the court's response, and even fewer studies have examined specialized courts' response to DV. Further, a limited number of investigations have focused on the effects of decision-making in DV cases on future DV offending.

This study attempts to overcome these shortcomings by examining the response to DV by two specialized DV courts in South Carolina. The predictors of prosecutorial and judicial decision-making are assessed within the two courts and the magnitude of these effects is compared across counties. Further, the extent to which general courtroom theoretical frameworks extend to our understanding decision-making in specialized DV courts is discussed. The impact of court decisions on recidivism is also explored.

The results indicate that both courts proactively responded to DV and operated under a treatment-oriented sentencing approach; there were, however, differences in conviction rates and sentencing between the two courts. Legal, case processing, and extralegal variables were relevant to the explanation of courtroom decision-making in the two courts and few differences existed in the magnitude of the effects across courts. General theoretical frameworks extend only partial utility for explaining decision-making in specialized DV courts. Finally, overall, court decisions were limited in their effect on future DV re-arrests. In all, this study adds to the growing literature surrounding specialized DV courts, courtroom decision-making in DV cases, and the effects of courtroom decisions on future offending.


© 2013, Gillian Mira Pinchevsky