The Use of Victim Video Statements in Family Violence Cases Increases the Rate of Early Guilty Pleas

Walton, D., Brooks, R., & Li, J. (2021).
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(13-14) 6098–6116.
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Expanded Abstract: 

This study explored the effect of victim video statements (VVS) on the rate of early guilty pleas by the defendant in cases of domestic violence. The data analysis explored two factors: (a) being bailed or remanded and (b) the seriousness of charges. VVS cases resulted in 44% early guilty pleas compared with 30% for those with written statements. VVS have a statistically significant increase in the odds of making a guilty plea.

A specific benefit of VVS is the ability to accurately record (as close to the time of the incident) an account of events that is less likely to be recanted. That is considered key as early studies from the United Kingdom report 46% of cases led to a retraction of the statement or withdrawal of support by the victim (Ellison, 2002). Other research reports the majority of victims in cases of intimate partner domestic violence retract their statements (Hoyle & Sanders, 2000). Fear of retaliation is the most frequent concern expressed within a well-documented reasoning of a victim manipulated into believing they are dependent on the offender for their own or their children’s well-being. As well as logical concerns for their personal safety, some women simply did not want to end their relationship with a violent partner (Hoyle & Sanders, 2000).

The opportunity to electronically record a victim’s statement at the scene of a domestic violence event arises through the widespread deployment of technology to support modern policing. This article addresses the application of video capture to record statements taken from adult victims of domestic violence. Since the early 1990s, the jurisdiction of this study has allowed children to give evidence-in-chief via a video interview. This was extended to adult sexual assaults in 2010. The idea of using a statement as evidence-in-chief is a major alteration to the practice of law (Ellison, 2002) and may require an amendment to court rules in many jurisdictions. A statement made at the time of the event and recorded by video is evidence on its own, or evidence-in-chief, as to what the witness said at the time of reporting the incident.

This study finds that VVS in family violence cases have a significant effect on increasing the odds of obtaining an early guilty plea, when comparing with cases involving a traditional written statement from the victim. The finding holds when accounting for differences in type of remand and event seriousness. Some questions around VVS remain unanswered, for example, the mechanism in which VVS exerts influence on an offender’s decision making. Future research should gather perspectives from victims, offenders, defense lawyers, and counsels to help developing a robust and fair process when implementing VVS.

(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above)