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Domestic Violence Series – Part 2

This is the second in this blog series covering domestic violence in Placer County. The first post outlined the Placer County Domestic Violence Court and covered the most common domestic violence charges. This post will cover victim and witness participation issues.

Charging Decision

In many domestic violence cases, the alleged victim may no longer want their partner or loved one to face charges after they reconcile. In the interest of justice, however, prosecutors can still choose to pursue charges even if the parties involved would like to move on.

In such cases, the prosecution still has the burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt—which is often difficult without the alleged victim’s cooperation and testimony.

Statements by Witnesses or Alleged Victims

Statements made by the alleged victim during or following an incident may not be admissible in court if he or she decides not to pursue charges.

In the 2004 case Crawford v. Washington1, the US Supreme Court decided that when an alleged victim is unavailable or refuses to testify during a trial, the prosecution cannot admit the statements made by the alleged victim  (hearsay evidence) unless the defendant is given a chance to cross-examine the alleged victim before the trial.

In 2006, The California Supreme Court further defined what “testimony” means in California. In People v. Cage, the Court decided that a declarant’s statement made in response to an officer’s questions for the purpose of investigation is considered testimonial and is therefore inadmissible. If the information was gathered by law enforcement for the purpose of dealing with an ongoing emergency, then it is not considered testimonial and can be used in court.

The summarized rule for victims unable (or unwilling) to testify is as follows: Statements made by the alleged victim to police or other law enforcement immediately following a domestic dispute are only admissible if the purpose of those statements was to help law enforcement deal with an ongoing emergency.

Recording of the 911 Call

A 2006 case decided that the statements made by the alleged victim to a 911 operator are not considered “testimonial” and are therefore admissible in court and can be played to the jury even if the alleged victim is unavailable or unwilling to testify.

Victim Can’t be Held in Contempt for Refusing to Testify

The California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1219(b), passed in 2008, states that an alleged domestic violence victim cannot be held in contempt for refusing to testify.  An alleged victim’s refusal to testify against their loved one must be respected by the court and the prosecutor must find another way to prove their case.

Use of Evidence about Battered Person Syndrome

In some cases, the judge may allow the prosecution to present expert testimony about “Battered Person Syndrome”, which can be used as an explanation for the alleged victim’s refusal to press charges or testify. This may be used when there is a history of domestic violence between the alleged victim and the defendant.

Testimony about Battered Person Syndrome, however, cannot be used against a defendant to prove the occurrence of the abuse that forms the basis of the criminal charge.

If you or someone you love is facing domestic violence charges, I can help. Call me at (530) 823-5400 to set up a free, confidential consultation about your case.

1 People vs. Crawford 541 U.S. 36 (2004),is a United States Supreme Court decision that reformulated the standard for determining when the admission of hearsay statements in criminal cases is permitted under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.

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