When Is It “Unfair Prejudice” for a Prosecutor to Bring Up Additional Allegations in a Domestic Violence Case?
August 12th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Domestic Violence
An issue that often comes up in the trial of domestic violence cases is the admission of evidence regarding “extraneous offenses.” That is to say, if you are accused of assaulting a family member, can the prosecution introduce allegations of similar prior acts as evidence against you?
The short answer is that such evidence is admissible unless the defense can show there is danger of “unfair prejudice.” For example, if hearing about your alleged prior bad act would likely inflame the jury or confuse the actual case against you, then the judge should exclude it. However, if you open the door for such evidence yourself, then it may be admitted notwithstanding any potential prejudice.
Appeals Court: Defendant Opened the Door for “Extraneous Offense” Evidence by Suggesting Self-Defense
A recent decision from the Texas Third District Court of Appeals in Austin, Flores v. State, illustrates what we are talking about. In this case, prosecutors charged the defendant with assaulting his wife in August 2017. The defendant’s wife testified about the alleged assault at his trial. The prosecution also introduced a video recording of the alleged assault.
The prosecution also sought to introduce evidence of other acts of abuse that the defendant allegedly committed against his wife. The trial judge decided to exclude some of this evidence but did allow the jury to hear about an incident where the defendant allegedly went to his wife’s workplace and threatened her with a gun.
The jury ultimately convicted the defendant of assault family violence. Taking into account the defendant’s prior criminal record, the trial court imposed a prison sentence of 38 years. On appeal, the defendant argued the jury was unfairly prejudiced by hearing about the “extraneous offense” involving the gun threat.
The Third District disagreed and affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The appeals court noted the defendant opened the door for this evidence by suggesting at trial that he either acted in self-defense or that his wife provoked the assault. Under the circumstances, the Third District said that evidence regarding the defendant’s prior alleged threats was admissible to “rebut” these theories. And in any event, the appellate court said the prosecution did not rely heavily on the extraneous offense evidence, nor did the wife’s actual testimony regarding the alleged gun incident unduly inflame the jury.
Speak with a Houston Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Today
In a domestic violence case, prosecutors will make every effort to paint the defendant in the worst possible light. As the decision above illustrates, evidence unrelated to the actual subject of the trial may nevertheless be considered relevant. This can place the defendant at a significant disadvantage when trying to maintain the constitutional presumption of innocence.
This is one reason, among many, that is crucial to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in these cases. If you have been charged with criminal domestic violence and need representation, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today to speak with an attorney right away. Call 281-280-0100.