Introduction To Demographics Of Domestic Violence In Colorado by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D.

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It is too early for politicians to presume on our forgetting that the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object.

James Madison


 

A basic test of whether charges of domestic violence and the issuance of restraining orders for abuse are being misapplied is to look at the demographics of where and how many such incidents are reported to police and the cases that come before the courts over discrete amounts of time within the State of Colorado. Such an evaluation is made possible by the fact that in 1995 the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) began making archival statewide domestic violence reports and in 1998 the Colorado court system began making operational archival data available by judicial districts. We also recommend that anyone wishing to follow the demographic arguments below print out the Colorado judicial district map.

The court results have been combined with population estimates from the U. S. Census Bureau to provide population-normalized values for domestic violence and restraining orders in each judicial district for each available year in a series of tables below.

Uniform standards of law enforcement, prosecution, and judicial practices are essential if citizens are to be provided equal protection under the law as guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

Equal protection requires that you be treated by all law enforcement agencies and the courts the same as everyone else under all statutes, rules, and regulations. Living in Colorado Springs shouldn't make you three times as likely to be arrested and prosecuted for the same crime as living in Lakewood, for example.

Equality of individuals without regard to sex is guaranteed under the Colorado Bill of Rights in Article II Section 29. Thus, the sex of an individual should have no effect on how they are treated by the police or courts.

A simple test of equity is the percentage of restraining (now called protection) orders issued in a judicial district versus the percentage of the population residing in that district. If uniform standards were being applied the percent of population would roughly equal the percent of restraining orders issued in that district. Unfortunately, several judicial districts fail this simple test.

Another test of equity is to measure how many restraining orders are being issued per capita in the state's judicial districts. It is reasonable to infer that abuse of process may be occurring in any judicial district issuing restraining orders in numbers more than one standard deviation above the state average. Five judicial districts of the twenty two in Colorado fail this test.

Another test of how the laws are being applied is a comparison of what the police are reporting and what the courts are doing. Not all arrests are substantiated by the evidence when presented to a district attorney. Some cases will be dismissed because the prosecutor doesn't feel he can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. A few cases will be dismissed by the judge at the arraignment hearing because the court does not find there is sufficient evidence to warrant carrying the case to trial. In most jurisdictions, for most crimes, approximately 10% of the arrests are dismissed without, or at the arraignment for lack of evidence, or for technical reasons, e.g., improperly served or no search warrant, etc. Thus, the number of court cases should always be somewhat less than the number of arrests. Astoundingly, there are consistently twice as many domestic violence court cases in Colorado as reported arrests.


 

Caveats

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Data for felony cases involving domestic violence are not available from the state court administrator.

For 1999 and following years there have been considerable efforts to improve the archival demographic data quality for Colorado courts. For example, note that in Table 39 for 1999 and in subsequent years the number of civil restraining orders is broken out from the number of domestic violence cases filed, in contrast with Table 38 for 1998 where the two are lumped together. And, beginning in 2002, the courts break out the number of domestic abuse restraining orders from other restraining orders (Table 45). In 2005 the state court administrator started providing a separate tabulation of restraining (protection) order violations (Table 51).

One notable exception to the increase in data quality is that the City and County of Denver do not appear to believe they are part of the court system of Colorado. As a result, little pertinent data are available from them.

However, as with virtually any archival statistical data, as the data quality improves the number of caveats with regard to the information also increase.

The numbers in the restraining order columns of Table 38, Table 39, Table 41, and Table 43 are the total of all civil restraining orders issued by the county courts. The majority of these are for domestic abuse, as seen in the data for 2002 (Table 45), but this number includes all kinds of restraining orders that do not involve domestic abuse at all, or at least domestic abuse is not named as the reason for issuance. For example, there are many problems between neighbors or relatives who do not want to be harassed, or who wish to end a trespass or stop a nuisance, and seek a restraining order from the courts. For years before 2002 all of these different problems are lumped together in the values for civil restraining orders. It is assumed that the ratio of the different types of civil restraining orders is reasonably uniform throughout all judicial districts so that any bias is a constant but that assumption has proven false as data quality has improved.

Lacking a means of separating the domestic abuse restraining orders from others before 2002, we simply report the total and accept the inevitable bias. We assume that orders regarding such things as trespass are sufficiently uniform between counties as to be insignificant in the statistical universe of the state population. There may, however, be unresolvable biases in the data between urban and rural areas.

The DV cases column in Table 40 for 1999, as well as subsequent years, reflects the number of misdemeanor charges of domestic violence filed in state courts for each of these years. There should be an order issued in each case as mandated under C.R.S. § 18-1-1001 but we are told a restraining order is not always entered and the number of such cases is unknown. In addition, in many cases the initial restraining order is removed after a hearing. The totals of the two columns, restraining orders and DV cases in Table 39 for 1999 and subsequent years are thus larger by a significant, but unknown, degree than the actual number of restraining orders for domestic violence or abuse entered in the state courts.

Archival data for misdemeanor domestic violence cases or restraining orders filed in municipal courts are unavailable.

As the law mandates a restraining order be issued, we assume the law is followed for statistical purposes.

In one of the many shams associated with current practice in domestic violence, if a man pleads guilty or accepts a plea bargain, the mandatory restraining order is often dropped and he is free to return home. However, if he pleads innocent, the restraining order is kept in place until the trial months later. Thus, the innocent are punished while the guilty go free.

The sampled population includes 3.5-4.2 million citizens of Colorado from 1998 on. To reduce bias we have normalized the sum of the restraining orders and domestic violence cases with regard to population of each judicial district based on county population data supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In small districts there will also be substantial fluctuations, or statistical spikes, for any given type of misdemeanor, or other crime, from year to year. A few cases of a particular type can make a significant per capita change. Thus, data from only one year are quite inadequate to determine a trend and we have tried to use only factors indicated by data from two or more years.

The courts are also quite aware that restraining orders for domestic violence or abuse are often entered in pending cases for dissolution of marriage. However, these are not separately counted at present and the number of restraining orders in this category is unknown. We estimate it to be at least one-third (33%) of all such orders as family law attorneys we have discussed the issue with suggest that restraining orders are sought in at least one-third of divorces in Colorado. Some estimate as many as half of all Colorado divorces use false allegations of violence or abuse to gain advantage. For the year 2002 that would indicate at least 8,700 divorce cases included allegations of domestic violence or abuse, or about 38% of the 22,927 domestic violence and abuse filings.

However, as noted in the section on divorce and domestic violence, there is no direct correlation between the number of divorces and the number of restraining orders in the state judicial districts. One factor in the lack of correlation between divorce and domestic violence is that Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) data show that half of the couple's involved in DV incidents are not married.

Funding for Colorado courts is based upon a "weighted caseload model" that credits a court for work done by weighted type. Thus, it is very much in the interest of the court system to properly identify all cases, hearings, and procedures performed.

However, there are anomalies that stand out in various districts. These anomalies are found not only with domestic violence but all types of court data. Sometimes the anomalies can be accounted for by data processing methods used in that district. Other times it is a question of district "culture" and sometimes the data entry is being done incorrectly. It is not beyond possibility, as well, that court data are being falsified to enhance funding for a judicial district. However, it is our contention that anomalies with respect to restraining orders that exceed one standard deviation and are continued over more than one year are valid cause for concern about due process and equal protection in those judicial districts where such abuse of process can be seen to occur.

We acknowledge, and appreciate that the Colorado court system is working hard to get everyone to count the same way and to count everything that is done correctly.

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| Next — Demographics of domestic violence in Colorado - 1998 |


 

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Last modified 12/20/16