Victims of domestic violence should speak with a trained legal advocate or attorney before going to court. To locate a legal advocate or attorney, please call the 24-hour, toll-free, all-language New York City Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-621-HOPE (4673) and ask for a referral to a legal services agency. Many legal services are provided at no cost to victims of domestic violence.
How the Courts Help | Find a Court
The courts and the District Attorney’s Offices in New York City provide specific services to victims of domestic violence. There is a District Attorneys’ Office in each borough, and each District Attorneys’ Office has a specialized unit for prosecuting crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. In addition, victims’ services units in each District Attorney’s Office provide support services and information to victims regarding the status of their case.
Contact the District Attorney’s Office in your borough for more information
Victims of domestic violence may find themselves in any of three courts: Criminal, Family, and/or Supreme. Orders of Protection can be obtained through the court system in all three types of courts.
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Criminal Court punishes misdemeanor crimes by imposing fines, jail time, and/or probation. Criminal Court is available to all victims of domestic violence whether or not they are related to an abuser by blood, marriage, or have a child in common. In New York City, each of the five boroughs has its own Criminal Court. Cases are typically filed in the county where the incident occurred.
Crimes are committed against the victims and against the People of the State of New York. This means that the prosecutor may pursue the case based upon the available evidence, even without the cooperation of the victims. If charges are being made against the victim, s/he should consult with a defense attorney.
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Family Court is a civil court established to take action in the lives of children, parents, and spouses. Cases are brought before Family Court when the individuals are legally married, divorced, or otherwise related by blood or marriage or if they have a child in common.
Family Court judges decide issues related to custody, visitation, adoption, abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency, and child support. They can issue Orders of Protection and can order abusers to pay for expenses related to the abuse such as medical care and property damage.
There are no juries in Family Court. The judge or hearing examiner conducts a hearing and decides the case. The court will advise the parties that they each have a right to hire a lawyer to represent them. In certain cases, if the parties cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed.
There is a Family Court in each of the five boroughs. Cases are typically filed in the county where one of the parties lives. If a domestic violence case is eligible for Family Court, then it is also eligible for Criminal Court. Depending on the situation, a case may be heard in Family Court, Criminal Court, or both at the same time.
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The Supreme Court is a trial court of unlimited jurisdiction. That means the judge can hear all cases that do not go to a specialized court. Criminal cases with felony charges, misdemeanors prosecuted by indictment, and divorces are all heard in Supreme Court.
New York City has courts that handle only domestic violence cases. Each specialized court operates differently, but they all have advocates to assist victims through the process.
Opened in June 1996, the Brooklyn Felony Domestic Violence Court has a judge who hears all indicted domestic violence felony charges in the Borough of Brooklyn. A Resource Coordinator provides the judge with information on the status of both the defendant and the victim, and monitors compliance with orders to attend batterer intervention programs, probation, and other treatment programs. Defendants may be ordered to attend a batterer’s intervention program as part of the disposition of their case.
Victims are assigned a Victim Advocate from the Kings County District Attorney’s Office Counseling Service Unit or community-based organization for referral to supportive services. The Victim Advocate provides updates to the client about the case and contacts the Resource Coordinator weekly to relay important developments, such as whether or not the abuser has violated an Order of Protection.
The Brooklyn Criminal Court Domestic Violence Part hears misdemeanor domestic violence cases. Since early 1997, Kings County Criminal Court has sent domestic violence cases to separate courtrooms, one for hearings and trials, and one for monitoring defendants. Victims may receive advocacy and supportive services from a community-based organization located onsite.
Since early 1997, Queens County Criminal Court has heard domestic violence misdemeanor cases in a separate courtroom. In early 2001, a Resource Coordinator and Defendant Monitor were hired. Clients are able to receive advocacy and supportive services from a community-based organization located onsite.
The Bronx Felony Court opened in October, 1999 to hear all indicted domestic violence felony cases in the Bronx. In addition to a judge, court personnel includes a Project Director and a Victim Advocate to assist the victim with the case, and a Defendant Monitor who refers defendants to batterer intervention programs and monitors them for the judge.
The Bronx Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Court opened in 1998 to hear all misdemeanor domestic violence cases in the Bronx. A fixed court team – three judges, attorneys, a Resource Coordinator, a Court Liaison to Victim Advocates, and a Defendant Monitor – ensures that defendants are carefully monitored and that victims have access to comprehensive services. To handle the high-volume caseload, the Domestic Violence Court is an integrated complex with three court parts – one courtroom for pre-trial appearances, one for trials, and a courtroom devoted exclusively to monitoring defendants' compliance with court orders.
The court opened in October, 2001 and uses a one family, one judge model. The same judge hears a family's Criminal Court, Family Court, and Supreme Court domestic violence cases. This means that the same judge can make all of the decisions for one family about Orders of Protection, custody, divorce, and criminal punishment. Court staff include a Victim Advocate, a Resource Coordinator, and a Children's Coordinator.
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