The Evidentiary Rules of Engagement in the War Against Domestic Violence
Erin R. Collins
Our criminal justice system promises defendants a fair and just adjudication of guilt, regardless of the character of the alleged offense. Yet, from mandatory arrest to “no-drop” prosecution policies, the system’s front-end response to domestic violence reflects the belief that it differs from other crimes in ways that permit or require the adaptation of criminal justice response mechanisms. Although scholars debate whether these differential responses are effective or normatively sound, the scholarship leaves untouched the presumption that, once the adjudicatory phase is underway, the system treats domestic violence offenses like any other crime. This Article reveals that this presumption is false. It demonstrates that many jurisdictions have adopted specialized evidence rules that authorize admission of highly persuasive evidence of guilt in domestic violence prosecutions that would be inadmissible in other criminal cases. These jurisdictions unmoor evidence rules from their justificatory principles to accommodate the same iteration of domestic violence exceptionalism that underlies specialized front-end criminal justice policies. The Article argues that even though such evidentiary manipulation may be effective in securing convictions, enlisting different evidence rules in our war on domestic violence is unfair to defendants charged with such offenses and undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system. It also harms some of the people the system seeks to protect by both reducing the efficacy of the criminal justice intervention and discrediting those complainants who do not support prosecution.