Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 529–542

Feminist Prosecutors and Patriarchal States

Original Paper


In Prosecuting Domestic Violence: A Philosophical Analysis, Michelle Madden Dempsey focuses on the dilemma prosecutors face when domestic violence victims are unwilling to cooperate in the criminal prosecution of their abusive partners. Starting from the premise that the ultimate goal should be putting an end to domestic violence, Dempsey urges prosecutors to act as feminists in deciding how to proceed in such cases. Doing so, Dempsey argues, will tend to make the character of the prosecutor’s community and state less patriarchal and thus help stamp out domestic violence. This article analyzes two issues arising from Dempsey’s work: first, whether prosecutors can justifiably be viewed as representatives of their states and communities; and, second, how prosecutors committed to using their discretion to battle both domestic violence and patriarchy would go about determining in a particular case whether to pursue criminal charges against the wishes of a victim.


Domestic violence Prosecutors Feminism 


  1. Alfieri, A. (2002). Community prosecutors. California Law Review, 90, 1465–1511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Bar Association. (2010). Model rules of professional conduct. Accessed 11 November 2011.
  3. Bibas, S. (2009). Prosecutorial regulation versus prosecutorial accountability. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 157, 959–1016.Google Scholar
  4. Burke, A., & Green, B. (2012). The community prosecutor: Questions of professional discretion. Wake Forest Law Review, 47, 285–317.Google Scholar
  5. Catalano, S. (2007). Intimate partner violence in the United States. United States Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. Accessed 11 November 2011.
  6. Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43, 1241–1299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Crown Prosecution Service. (2009). CPS policy for prosecuting cases of domestic violence. Accessed 11 November 2011.
  8. Crown Prosecution Service. (2010). The code for crown prosecutors. Accessed 11 November 2011.
  9. Davis, A. (2007). Arbitrary justice: The power of the American prosecutor. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Davis, K. (1969). Discretionary justice: A preliminary inquiry. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dempsey, M. (2009). Prosecuting domestic violence: A philosophical analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dunahoe, A. (2005). Revisiting the cost-benefit calculus of the misbehaving prosecutor: Deterrence economics and transitory prosecutions. New York University Annual Survey of American Law, 61, 45–110.Google Scholar
  13. Ellison, L. (2002). Prosecuting domestic violence without victim participation. Modern Law Review, 65, 834–858.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ellison, L. (2003). Responding to victim withdrawal in domestic violence prosecutions. Criminal Law Review, 70, 760–772.Google Scholar
  15. Epstein, D. (2002). Procedural justice: Tempering the state’s response to domestic violence. William & Mary Law Review, 43, 1843–1905.Google Scholar
  16. Epstein, D., Bell, M., & Goodman, L. (2003). Transforming aggressive prosecution policies: Prioritizing victims’ long-term safety in the prosecution of domestic violence cases. American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law, 11, 465–498.Google Scholar
  17. Fischer, K., Vidmar, N., & Ellis, R. (1993). The culture of battering and the role of mediation in domestic violence cases. Southern Methodist University Law Review, 46, 2117–2174.Google Scholar
  18. Ford, D. (1991). Prosecution as a victim power resource: A note on empowering women in violent conjugal relationships. Law and Society Review, 25, 313–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Goodmark, L. (2009). Autonomy feminism: An anti-essentialist critique of mandatory interventions in domestic violence cases. Florida State University Law Review, 37, 1–48.Google Scholar
  20. Hanna, C. (1996). No right to choose: Mandated victim participation in domestic violence prosecutions. Harvard Law Review, 109, 1849–1910.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hoyle, C., & Sanders, A. (2000). Police response to domestic violence: From victim choice to victim empowerment. British Journal of Criminology, 40(1), 14–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Johnson, M. (2010). Balancing liberty, dignity, and safety: The impact of domestic violence lethality screening. Cardozo Law Review, 32, 519–580.Google Scholar
  23. Joy, P. (2006). The relationship between prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions: Shaping remedies for a broken system. Wisconsin Law Review, 2006, 399–429.Google Scholar
  24. Kahan, D. (2000). Gentle nudges vs. hard shoves: Solving the sticky norms problem. University of Chicago Law Review, 67, 607–645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kinports, K. (2004). So much activity, so little change: A reply to the critics of battered women’s self-defense. Saint Louis University Public Law Review, 23, 155–191.Google Scholar
  26. LaFave, W., Israel, J., King, N., & Kerr, O. (2007). Criminal procedure. Eagan, MN: Thomson West.Google Scholar
  27. Lorde, A. (1984). The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. In Sister outsider: Essays and speeches by Audre Lorde (pp. 110–113). Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press.Google Scholar
  28. Maguigan, H. (2003). Wading into Professor Schneider’s “murky middle ground” between acceptance and rejection of criminal justice responses to domestic violence. American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law, 11, 427–445.Google Scholar
  29. Mahoney, M. (1991). Legal images of battered women: Redefining the issue of separation. Michigan Law Review, 90, 1–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Miller, M., & Wright, R. (2008). The black box. Iowa Law Review, 94, 125–196.Google Scholar
  31. Mills, L. (1999). Killing her softly: Intimate abuse and the violence of state intervention. Harvard Law Review, 113, 550–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Raz, J. (1984). Legal principles and the limits of law. In M. Cohen (Ed.), Ronald Dworkin and contemporary jurisprudence (pp. 73–87). London: Duckworth.Google Scholar
  33. Sack, E. (2004). Battered women and the state: The struggle for the future of domestic violence policy. Wisconsin Law Review, 2004, 1657–1740.Google Scholar
  34. Schneider, E. (2000). Battered women and feminist lawmaking. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Shepard, M., & Pence, E. (Eds.). (1999). Coordinating community responses to domestic violence: Lessons from Duluth and beyond. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  36. Stuntz, W. (1997). The uneasy relationship between criminal procedure and criminal justice. Yale Law Journal, 107, 1–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sunstein, C. (1996). Social norms and social roles. Columbia Law Review, 96, 903–968.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Thompson, A. (2002). It takes a country to prosecute. Notre Dame Law Review, 77, 321–372.Google Scholar
  39. United States Department of Justice (1997). United States attorneys’ manual. Accessed 11 November 2011.
  40. Vorenberg, J. (1981). Decent restraint of prosecutorial power. Harvard Law Review, 94, 1521–1573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wills, D. (1997). Domestic violence: The case for aggressive prosecution. UCLA Women’s Law Journal, 7, 173–182.Google Scholar
  42. Wright, R. (2009). How prosecutor elections fail us. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 6, 581–610.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dickinson School of LawPenn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations