The Review Team Structure
The enabling Legislation, Minnesota Statute 611A.203, requires that the Fourth Judicial District Domestic Fatality Review Team have up to 35 members and include representatives from the following organizations or professions:
• The Medical Examiner;
• A Judicial Court Officer (Judge or referee);
• A County and City Attorney and a public defender;
• The County Sheriff and a peace officer;
• A representative from Family Court Services and the Department of Corrections;
• A physician familiar with domestic violence issues;
• A representative from district court administration and DASC;
• A public citizen representative or a representative from a civic organization;
• A mental health professional; and
• Domestic violence advocates or shelter workers (3 positions)
The Team also has representatives from community organizations and citizen volunteers.
Review Team members are appointed by the District IV Chief Judge and serve two year terms of service. One paid staff person supports the Team in the role of Project Director.
The Review Team is governed by the Advisory Board, which is also the policy-making and strategic oversight body. The Advisory Board is made up of members of the Review Team with at least six months of experience. The Chair of the Review Team leads the Advisory Board and appoints Advisory Board members for two year terms.
The Fatality Review Team reviews only cases which are closed to any further prosecution. In addition, all cases – such as a homicide/suicide where no criminal prosecution would take place – are at least one year old when they are reviewed. This policy is based on the advice of several jurisdictions that were already well versed in the review process. In their experience, letting time pass after the incident allowed some of the emotion and tension to dissipate, thus allowing for more open and honest discussion during case reviews.
Structure & Processes
The Project Director uses information provided by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women’s Femicide Report and homicide records from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office to determine which cases to review. The Team reviews a mix of cases that differ from one another based on race, location of the homicide and gender of the perpetrator.
The Case Review
After a case is selected for Team review, the Project Director sends requests for agencies to provide documents and reviews the information. Police and prosecution files typically provide the bulk of information and identify other agencies that may have records important in reviewing the case.
The Project Director reviews the records to develop a chronology of the case. The chronology is a step by step account of lives of the victim and perpetrator, their relationship, incidents of domestic violence, events that occurred immediately prior to the homicide and the homicide itself. Names of police, prosecutors, social workers, doctors, or other professionals involved in the case are not used.
A designated person from the Team contacts members of the family of the victim to inform them that the Review Team is reviewing the case and to see if they are willing and interested in providing information and reflections on the case. This chronology is sent to Review Team members prior to the case review meeting, and documents from the police records, prosecution records and, typically, medical records are sent to members of the team. Two team members are assigned to review each of these records, one member from the agency that provided the information and one who has an outside perspective.
Each Review Team meeting begins with members signing a confidentiality agreement. At the meeting, individuals who reviewed the case report their findings. The Team then develops a series of observations related to the case.
Small groups of Team members use these observations to identify opportunities for intervention that may have prevented the homicide. The small groups then present their findings to the full Review Team, which discusses the issues and opportunities. The Review Team records key issues, observations and opportunities for intervention related to each case.