12/29/05 — New domestic violence court will put abuse cases on a fast track

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New domestic violence court will put abuse cases on a fast track

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on December 29, 2005 1:50 PM

Victims of domestic assault are getting their day in court sooner, thanks to a new court that concentrates on their cases.

The 8th Judicial District, which includes Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties, received a state grant this year to set up a court to hear domestic violence cases only. The grant included money to hire an assistant district attorney to concentrate on prosecuting abusers.

The new prosecutor, Tonya White, said that in the past an abused spouse would have to take out a restraining order in civil court and then have to file criminal charges to be heard in criminal court.

Tonya White

News-Argus/Jack Stephens

Tonya White

"Ninety-nine percent of the evidence was the same so this new court avoids a duplication of services," she said.

Miss White said a suspect who knows how to manipulate the court system could have his or her case continued many times and even oftentimes eventually get it dismissed.

"The really successful abuser" is seldom brought to court, she said, because the abuse is kept quiet. By the time criminal charges are filed, she said, the victim often has been talked out of pursuing the case by the abuser.

"The purpose of this court is to put these cases on a fast track so that they are not continued so often or dismissed," Miss White said.

She says her boss, District Attorney Branny Vickory, has a no-drop policy in domestic violence cases.

Miss White says her assistant, Joann Durham, works with the victims, getting background information on their families and how the abuse has affected them.

"We let them know that we care," Miss White said.

One victim told them that she had not come to court until now because she did not think anyone cared.

"That made me feel good," Miss White said. "We put a lot of effort into gaining their trust. We're not trying to destroy families, marriages or homes."

At the same time, Miss White says, the victims are making decisions on behalf of their children, too.

While a victim has the power to dismiss the charge, she says the state should be more aggressive in prosecuting domestic violence cases. If an abuser is left unchecked, the result could be serious injuries or even death, she said.

Miss White graduated from Kinston High School in 1997, earned a bachelor's degree in communications in 2001 from Howard University in Washington and a law degree in 2004 from N.C. Central University in Durham.

She was sworn in as an assistant district attorney in August. She says the more experienced members of the District Attorney's Office have helped her get her footing in the job.

Miss White started trying cases in November. The new court has averaged five to 10 cases a week, but she believes the caseload will increase in January. Cases are heard Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Goldsboro. Starting in January, domestic violence court will be held Fridays in Kinston. Greene County has so few cases, she says, that they will be heard during regular District Court terms on Fridays.

"Our goal is to decrease the number of domestic violence incidents in the district," Miss White said.