The Burden of Proof in a Domestic Violence Case

September 14th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Domestic Violence

In domestic violence cases, as with any criminal matter, prosecutors may rely on circumstantial and/or direct evidence to establish a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Put another way, a jury can infer that domestic violence occurred from many smaller pieces of indirect evidence even when there is no direct accusation from the victim. Indeed, given the nature of domestic violence allegations, it is not unusual for an accuser to initially give a statement to police and then later recant or ask the prosecution not to pursue charges.

Austin-Area Man Convicted of Misdemeanor Domestic Violence After Hitting Ex-Girlfriend in the Face

A recent decision from the Texas Third District Court of Appeals in Austin, Morgan v. State, illustrates what we are talking about. Prosecutors in Bell County charged the defendant with hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face. On the night in question, police responded to a possible domestic violence call. When they arrived, officers spoke with the girlfriend and another witness.

One of the officers later testified that the girlfriend had “swelling and redness to the left side of her face right around the eye area.” Photographs of these injuries were displayed to the jury. The officer also took a victim statement from the girlfriend, which stated the defendant had punched her in the left eye. Before trial, however, the girlfriend filed an affidavit of non-prosecution–basically, a request for prosecutors to drop the domestic violence charges. At trial, she doubled back and recanted the affidavit, telling the jury that the defendant told her what to say.

relationships are hard

The defendant challenged the credibility and reliability of the girlfriend’s testimony. Specifically, the defense suggested the girlfriend was “heavily medicated” due to her ongoing cancer treatment at the time, and that she was also intoxicated. The officer who took the girlfriend’s statement nevertheless told the jury that, based on his experience and training, he did not believe the girlfriend was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, although he never asked her directly.

On appeal to the Third District, the defense continued to argue the girlfriend’s testimony was insufficient to establish his guilt. The appellate court disagreed and upheld the defendant’s conviction. The jury was entitled to credit the officer’s testimony that the girlfriend did not display any signs of heavy medication or intoxication. More to the point, the girlfriend’s testimony was sufficient to establish the key element of the prosecution’s case–namely that the defendant hit her in the face. And as noted above, the jury also saw photographs taken of the girlfriend’s injuries. The Third District, therefore, concluded that from the “cumulative force” of all this evidence, a rational jury could find the defendant guilty of domestic violence.

Speak with a Galveston Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer Today

Many people accused of domestic violence incorrectly believe they can make the case “go away” if they convince the accuser to change their story. But as the case above demonstrates, that is not true, and in fact, you can get into even more serious legal trouble if prosecutors believe you are tampering with their witness. This is why if you are accused of domestic violence, your best move is to contact and retain an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston, or League City today if you need immediate representation. Call 281-280-0100

 

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