A Fairfield police detective and two advocates say the closure of most of the state’s courthouses to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has made it harder to protect victims of domestic violence.

In an interview earlier this week, Fairfield Police Det. Kerry Dalling said that she had filed paperwork for a domestic violence arrest warrant almost two weeks previous, and she was still waiting to hear back about the warrant application.

Dalling said Bridgeport Superior Court is only open three days a week at the moment, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and for limited hours. Further, she said the Bridgeport courthouse is taking on the burden of all the other closed courthouses in their judicial district.

COVID-19’s disruption to the normal process of obtaining a warrant has caused delays at several steps.

“What that means is, I submit a warrant for domestic violence – and this is actually a situation I’m dealing with now – I’ve waited for almost two weeks now for the warrant to come back, which is unheard of,” Dalling said. “And this particular victim is in the home with the abuser so … you know we check in every day. It definitely makes me feel uncomfortable, but we’re working through it.”

Dalling arrested the subject of the warrant the day after her interview with CTNewsJunkie. The Judicial Branch provided a timeline of events:

• Incident occurred 3/25 (Wednesday)
• Incident reported to police 4/1 (Wednesday)
• Warrant signed by police 4/3 (Friday)
• Warrant reviewed and signed by prosecutor 4/6 (Monday)
• Warrant signed by court 4/9 (Thursday)
• Fairfield PD picks up warrant 4/15 (Wednesday)
• Fairfield PD arrests defendant 4/15 and releases him on a promise to appear (Wednesday)
• Defendant is arraigned in court on 4/17 (Friday)

While Dalling does not fault any individual or entity for delays, she believes that the current system, which uses paper forms, needs improvement.

The answer, she said, could be in the authorization of electronic filing for arrest warrants, similar to a change made April 2 in an executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont through which people are, for the first time, are allowed to file for civil ex-parte restraining orders online.

Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), said her agency – which represents 18 member organizations – worked with Safe Connect and the Judicial Branch to develop the new online approach to the process of filing family violence restraining orders.

“Civil side it took us about a week … to work out with the Judicial Branch the circumstance whereby an executive order was authorized by the governor to allow for online restraining order applications,” Jarmoc said. “We understand that’s difficult for the Judicial Branch to comprehend, in terms of what that would be in normal times, but these are very abnormal times. And so victims can apply for a restraining order online. We’ve been directing individuals to CTSafeConnect.org so that they can go through that process.”

The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence has been working more closely with the State Marshals – who handle process servicing duties for the Judicial Branch – because of concerns over the strain on the system. The hope is that with advocates communicating with marshals to serve an order, there will be a better understanding of when that order has been provided and delivered.

But on the criminal side of the docket, there’s a different process for serving warrants and lives are also at stake.

“I think the question for us is how do we prioritize those really critical circumstances where we need to push through these systems and really work collaboratively knowing that it can’t wait,” Jarmoc said. “It can’t wait two weeks, it can’t wait two days. And how do we work together around those items.”

Dalling said she thinks the Judicial Branch should consider speeding up the warrant application process to give victims of violence a better chance, particularly during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One way to do that, Dalling says, is for the Judicial Branch to give law enforcement the option to submit arrest warrant applications electronically, instead of using paper forms. With the current paper filing system, the paperwork is transferred and needs to be physically picked up at locations. With limited hours of operation at courthouses, this can cause delays. She acknowledged, however, that it is challenging to switch to an electronic system.

The Judicial Branch said that on April 9, Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll III directed all judges to work on reviewing and signing search and arrest warrants in an effort to help the limited number of judges assigned to the six courthouses that remain open in the state.

In addition, the Judicial Branch said any police official or state’s attorney has the option to ask for an immediate review of a warrant if there is an emergency, including allegations of domestic violence. Judges are prepared to accommodate all situations where time is of the essence.

Dalling said she was hopeful now based on seeing what advocates were able to accomplish on the civil side with the ex-parte restraining orders.

“Right now we submit a paper, a piece of paper – an affidavit – to court, and it goes through a prosecutor and then through a judge and it eventually makes its way back to the police department, which is usually a very fast process for domestic and sexual violence,” Dalling said. “But right now there’s obviously a holdup so if we would have the ability to submit electronically, and have those affidavits reviewed electronically, I think that would help. But again I understand that that’s not something that can just – that we can’t just start doing that. There’s a whole process involved with that.”

FULL INTERVIEW


CORRECTION – The timeline of actions regarding the arrest warrant listed April 9 as a Friday by mistake. April 9 was a Thursday. The story has been corrected to reflect the correct day of the week.

RESOURCES:

Domestic Violence Awareness Through CT Safe Connect

Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence: All direct services through our member centers are free and confidential. Call our statewide 24/7 toll-free hotlines to speak with a certified sexual assault crisis counselor: 1-888-999-5545 for English, 1-888-568-8332 para Español. Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

• The Victim’s Rights Center of Connecticut, a program of the Alliance, acts as independent legal counsel sworn to protect the legal rights and best interests of the victim through a broad-based approach grounded in litigation, creative problem-solving, and extensive knowledge of the judicial system assists victims of crime in criminal court, family court and juvenile court in much of the state. Call for more information 203-350-3515 or visit endsexualviolencect.org/vrcct/.

• Additionally, someone can always contact their local law enforcement agency for any questions. All agencies have a dedicated domestic violence liaison.

Adam Chiara

Adam Chiara is an associate professor of communication at the University of Hartford and a multimedia storyteller.