In Transylvania County, N.C. Roger Ben Glass walked away from a charge of assaulting his wife earlier this year when she declined to testify against him. In Hertford County, N.C., a month earlier, James Thomas Clark Jr. went to jail for 75 days for violating a court order by showing up at his former girlfriend’s house and damaging her car. She didn’t need to testify.
Those examples were offered by the Raleigh News & Observer in a 3-part series on sharp variances among North Carolina prosecutors in the way that domestic violence cases are handled. The News & Observer analyzed the disposition of 238,000 misdemeanor charges across the state from Jan. 1, 1997, to Oct. 11, 2002. Data are available online at newsobserver.com/domesticviolence
Among the findings:
* More than half of domestic violence charges — about 53 percent — were dismissed by prosecutors and judges.
* Only about a third of domestic violence crimes reported to authorities resulted in convictions.
* Among those 80,000 convictions, abusers were sentenced to time behind bars only 18 percent of the time.
Experts say the state’s overall conviction rate of 34 percent indicates that North Carolina prosecutors aren’t doing enough. Studies show that district attorneys across the country who vigorously prosecute such crimes have much higher conviction rates — 54 percent in Memphis, Tenn., for example, and 68 percent in Lincoln, Neb.
“If your state average is 34 percent, I would say as a state you’re flunking,” said Andrew Klein, the former chief probation officer in Quincy, Mass., whose court attracted national attention for its handling of domestic violence.