Can Pre-Recorded Evidence Raise Conviction Rates in Cases of Domestic Violence?
Steve Yeong and Suzanne Poynton.
In Australia it is estimated that close to one in four women have experienced at least one instance of Domestic Violence (DV) since the age of 15 (ABS, 2017). In an effort to reduce the prevalence of DV, governments in Australia and elsewhere have passed laws and introduced policies designed to emphasise the criminal nature of DV. One such policy is the Domestic Violence Evidence-in-Chief (DVEC) reforms, which came into effect in New South Wales (NSW) on 1 June 2015. The DVEC reforms allow victims of DV to provide testimony through the use of a pre-recorded video statement with police.
A prior study conducted by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (see Yeong & Poynton, 2017), found limited evidence suggesting that the presence of a DVEC statement may raise the probability of a conviction. However, as we noted (2017, p. 13):
“The impact of DVEC on court outcomes should continue to be monitored. NSW courts were the first in Australia to accept video statements as evidence-in-chief for DV matters. It may take time for complainants to begin to trust the new process, be willing to consent to video statements and pursue criminal charges. Police expertise in collecting evidence of sufficient quality will also continually improve. If further enhancements are made to procedural safeguards for victims in criminal proceedings, then over the longer term we may see the DVEC reforms achieve their ultimate aim; to enhance victim safety and reduce domestic and family violence in our community.”
The objective of the present study is to follow up on the initial short-term evaluation and determine whether or not the presence of a DVEC statement raises the probability of a conviction in cases of DV assault.
The findings from the present study can be summarised in the following four points. First, the presence of a DVEC statement raises the overall probability of a conviction by six percentage points (an increase from about 76% to 82%). Second, when we restrict our analysis to the one in four DV cases that proceed to a defended hearing, we find that the presence of a DVEC statement raises the probability of a conviction by about 17 percentage points (an increase from about 70% to 87%). Third, we find no evidence to indicate that the presence of a DVEC statement has any impact on the probability of a guilty plea. And finally, in exploring the difference between the results from the present study and the previous evaluation, we find evidence consistent with the proposition that the NSW justice system required additional time to adopt and adjust to the DVEC reforms.
We believe that our paper makes two contributions to public policy and research. First, to the best of our knowledge, we provide the first empirical evidence that establishes a causal link between pre-recorded evidence and court outcomes. And second, the difference between the results presented in this paper and our prior work highlights the need for both researchers and policymakers to allow for sufficient implementation and follow-up time before deciding whether or not a policy was effective in achieving its objectives.
August 27, 2019