Ensuring Victim Safety and Abuser Accountability: Reforms and Revisions in New York Courts' Response to Domestic Violence
Lippman, Jonathan, Albany Law Review
TABLE OF CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION II. CHANGES TO THE NEW YORK CRIMINAL COURT SYSTEM OVER TIME HAVE IMPROVED OUTCOMES FOR VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE A. In the past, antiquated views of women and domestic violence impeded the prosecution of abusers B. Logistical and procedural obstacles in criminal court also prevented litigants from accessing justice C. Mandatory arrest policies, a statewide domestic violence registry, and other reforms were implemented to aid law enforcement and prosecutors D. The creation of specialized domestic violence courts brings families with overlapping criminal and family court cases before the same judge E. The success of specialized DV courts and other reforms are documented by encouraging statistical trends from the criminal courts III. INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS IN THE FAMILY COURTS HAVE INCREASED ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS A. Historically, obstacles in family court prevented victims of domestic violence from obtaining relief B. Legislative changes and the strengthening of civil protective orders have aided in combating domestic violence C. The implementation of Family Justice Centers and expanded access to civil legal services provide increased support to domestic violence victims IV. CONCLUSION
The violent murder of Galina Komar by her abusive ex-boyfriend on February 12, 1996 grabbed the attention of New Yorkers and made domestic violence a front-page issue. (1) Ms. Komar, a Russian immigrant who lived in Brooklyn, endured over a year of abuse at the hands of her boyfriend, Benito Oliver. (2) Throughout the course of their relationship, Mr. Oliver repeatedly punched Ms. Komar, threatened her, and slammed her into walls. (3) On one particular occasion, he hit her on the head with a pipe so hard that it opened a gash that required twenty-two stitches to close. (4) Though Ms. Komar had twice been sent to the hospital by her boyfriend's beatings, the charges against Mr. Oliver were never more serious than misdemeanors, as felony assaults required more serious injuries, such as broken bones. (5) One night, after Mr. Oliver held a knife to her throat, threatened to kill her, and forced her to have sex, Ms. Komar called the police, and Mr. Oliver was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges. (6) While he was held over a forty-one day period, Mr. Oliver's prosecution was the subject of thirteen hearings in front of five different judges, eight different prosecutors, and three different defense lawyers. (7) Though Mr. Oliver was a four-time felon and Ms. Komar had two orders of protection filed against him, the judge modified the bail terms and allowed for Mr. Oliver's release. (8) Three weeks after his release, Mr. Oliver went to the car dealership where Ms. Komar worked, shot her in the head, and then killed himself. (9)
Ms. Komar's violent death raised awareness in New York City and throughout the state regarding the problem of domestic violence. Ms. Komar's murder highlighted the shortcomings within the court system with regard to how domestic violence cases were handled. Judges and court personnel were not adequately trained in domestic violence issues and often harbored negative and sexist preconceived notions about victims. In both criminal and family courts, structural and procedural impediments to safeguarding families from domestic violence were widespread.
Since then, New York courts have come a long way in changing the way domestic violence cases are handled. Legislative activity and changes in court administration have been effective in addressing some of the obstacles faced by litigants as they navigate the court system.
Educational programs have informed judges and court personnel about the myriad of issues surrounding domestic violence so that courts are better able to address and mitigate problems. …