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Is an Accuser’s Pending Criminal Charges Relevant in a Domestic Violence Case?

Domestic violence cases are often “he said/she said” affairs. Prosecutors ask juries to convict defendants largely on the strength and credibility of an accuser’s testimony. It therefore stands to reason that the defendant has the right to cross-examine the accuser on any subject that might serve to undermine their credibility with the jury.

In reality, that’s not how the criminal justice system works in Texas. While all criminal defendants have the right to “confront” the witnesses against them, that does not grant them an unlimited right to question an accuser. Judges can, and do, restrict questions that are deemed insufficiently relevant to the matter at hand.

Houston Court Upholds 15-Year Sentence in Domestic Violence Case

For example, a state appeals court here in Houston recently rejected a defendant’s appeal of his domestic violence conviction. Among other issues, the defendant said he was not allowed to freely cross-examine his accuser at trial about her own pending criminal charges. The appeals court agreed with the trial judge that the substance of those charges were not relevant to her credibility.

The defendant previously dated the accuser. After a three-year relationship, they broke up, and the accuser later obtained a domestic violence protective order against the defendant. After the order expired, the defendant showed up at the accuser’s house. What happened next was the central dispute at the defendant’s trial.

Both sides agreed the accuser invited the defendant into the house and allowed him to rest there. The accuser testified that after she asked him to leave, he “grabbed her by the hair and started punching her in the side of her head.” The defendant said the accuser attacked him, by “poking him in the fact” and demanding he give her “drugs and money.” When he refused, she attacked him, and in the ensuing altercation he pulled on her hair. The defendant denied ever punching the accuser, however.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with assault. At trial, the defense wanted to cross-examine the accuser about her own pending charges for felony assault and drug charges. These charges were not related to the defendant’s case. Nevertheless, the defendant maintained the charges showed the accuser “had a motive to testify against him.”

The trial judge allowed the defense to question the accuser about the fact she was facing criminal charges. But the defense could not ask about the “nature of the charges.” In other words, the jury did not know what the accuser was accused of, only that she was facing some sort of felony charges.

The jury subsequently convicted the defendant, who received a 15-year prison sentence. Rejecting the defendant’s appeal, the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals, said he “failed to establish the required causal connection or logical relationship between the nature of the charges pending against [the accuser] and [her] potential motive to testify against him and for the State.”

Contact a Houston Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Today

Domestic violence cases are often stacked against the defendant, who must face a potentially more sympathetic accuser. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Houston domestic violence defense lawyer who will zealously represent your interests in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you have been charged with domestic violence and require immediate legal representation or call us directly at (281) 280-0100 .