A conviction on domestic violence charges can land you in prison for a very long time. Defendants often face an uphill battle in these cases due to the emotionally charged nature of domestic (or family) violence allegations. This is why it is essential to make sure police and prosecutors follow the law when it comes to handling these cases.
Appeals Court: Possible Trial Court Mistakes Do Not Justify Reversing Jury’s Guilty Verdict
A recent decision from the Texas Third District Court of Appeals, Manson v. State, illustrates some of the difficulties faced by defendants in domestic violence cases. Here, prosecutors charged the defendant with “felony assault family violence” after a reported altercation between him and his common-law spouse at a bus stop. At trial, the spouse testified the defendant poured beer on her and threw a can at her forehead, which caused swelling and bleeding near her eyebrow.
A jury ultimately found the defendant guilty. Due to a prior conviction, the defendant received a 25-year prison sentence. On appeal to the Third District, the defendant asked for a new trial based on two issues related to the testimony of a police officer who responded to the scene on the night of the alleged assault.
The first issue related to the officer’s testimony regarding what the spouse told him at the scene. The officer said the spouse reported “feeling pain” when the defendant threw the can at her, which was about half an hour before she met with the officer. The defendant argued this was an inadmissible “hearsay” statement.
The Third District said even if the statement was technically inadmissible, it was not a “constitutional error” justifying a new trial. Non-constitutional errors are reversible only when they have a “substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.” In this case, the appeals court noted the victim herself testified as to the pain she experienced that night.
The second issue raised by the defendant involved the same officer’s testimony. During direct examination, the prosecutor asked the officer, “[W]hat did you believe had occurred that night?” The officer replied he believed the spouse had been the victim of “family violence.”
The defendant objected to this question, both at trial and on appeal, because it called for the officer to reach a “conclusion,” which was properly the function of the jury. Again, the Third District said that even if it was a mistake to let the officer offer his opinion, it had “but slight effect, if any, on the jury given the “strength and overwhelming amount of additional evidence indicating [the defendant’s] guilt.”
Contact Houston Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Tad Nelson Today
Anytime you are accused of domestic violence or abuse, you need to take the matter seriously. As the case above illustrates, what starts out as a domestic altercation can lead to someone facing more than two decades in prison. So if you are facing family violence charges and need representation from a skilled criminal defense attorney, call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston, or League City today to speak with a member of our team right away.