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Domestic Violence Charges: When Your Accuser Declines to Testify

kelly-sikkema-1YeQl23dvJI-unsplash-200x300When family disagreements escalate into accusations of domestic violence, it’s not uncommon for the accusing partner to have a change of heart after the fact and decide not to press charges or testify. If you’re the one accused, this may seem like good news at first–but in California, it does not necessarily mean you won’t still face criminal charges or be convicted of domestic violence. The reason for this is that domestic violence allegations are not a civil matter but a criminal one–meaning it’s the state that brings a claim against you, not your accuser. If prosecutors find other evidence that domestic violence occurred, they don’t necessarily need the accuser to testify. Let’s delve into why prosecutors sometimes move ahead with domestic violence cases without the testimony of the alleged victim, what evidence might be presented, and how a defense attorney might address that evidence.

Why Prosecutors Might Decide to File Charges Without the Testimony of the Victim

Prosecutors may decide to proceed with domestic violence charges even if the accuser declines to testify for several reasons, each rooted in the commitment to uphold justice and protect individuals from harm. These include but are not limited to, the following.

  • Suspected Intimidation or Coercion: Prosecutors are aware that victims often refuse to testify due to fear of retaliation or further abuse from the accused. If they believe your accuser has gone silent out of fear, they may move forward with charges independently.
  • Public Safety Concerns: Domestic violence is a serious issue that can escalate if not addressed. Prosecutors may believe that moving forward with charges is necessary to protect the victim and potentially others from future harm.
  • Evidence Beyond Testimony: If there is substantial evidence apart from the victim’s testimony, this may motivate prosecutors to continue with the case. 
  • Historical Evidence of Abuse: If you have a prior history that points to the presence of abuse (e.g., previous incidents, documented patterns of behavior, or past convictions), this may inform the decision to proceed with charges.

Types of Evidence Used in the Absence of Accuser Testimony

The prosecution has various tools at its disposal to build a case against someone accused of domestic violence, even without the testimony of the accuser. Here are some forms of evidence that can play a role in obtaining a conviction.

Photographic Evidence

Photos documenting the victim’s injuries can be compelling evidence in domestic violence cases. Law enforcement can take these images at the scene, medical personnel, or even the accusers themselves. They serve as a visual record of the physical harm allegedly caused.

Medical Records

Medical records provide a detailed account of the injuries sustained, including the nature, extent, and timing. These documents can corroborate claims of abuse and demonstrate a pattern consistent with domestic violence.

911 Recordings

Calls made to 911 during or immediately after an alleged incident can capture real-time reactions, fear, and details provided by the accuser or witnesses. These recordings can be powerful evidence, conveying the urgency and emotional state of the caller even if the accuser declines to testify later.

Eyewitness Accounts

Witnesses to incidents of domestic violence, whether they are neighbors, friends, family members, or bystanders, can provide testimonies that support the prosecution’s case. Their observations can fill in gaps when the accuser is unwilling to testify.

Past Statements of the Accused or Accuser

Statements you make to law enforcement during interrogations or in other contexts can be used as admissions of guilt or to establish a pattern of behavior. Even seemingly innocuous comments can be scrutinized and interpreted in the context of the case. Likewise, an alleged victim’s prior statements regarding the incident(s) in question may be used as evidence even if the victim no longer wishes to press charges.

Defense Strategies and Exonerating Evidence

While it can certainly bolster the prosecution’s case to have the accuser testify against you, the above examples of evidence may still be more than enough to convince a jury of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That being said, a skilled defense attorney can often take measures to counter the prosecution’s case and refute the evidence presented. Let’s look at some possible defense strategies. 

Challenging the Credibility and Admissibility of Evidence

A critical aspect of defense involves questioning the credibility of the evidence presented. This could mean highlighting inconsistencies in eyewitness testimonies, pointing out the lack of a direct link between the accused and the injuries documented, or arguing that certain pieces of evidence were obtained unlawfully and should be excluded. For example, a defense attorney might scrutinize the context of the 911 call, highlighting any inconsistencies or ambiguities that may undermine its reliability as evidence of abuse. They may also question the origins of injuries, suggest alternative explanations, and dispute the timing or causation linked to the accused.

Presenting Contradictory Evidence

Defense counsel can introduce evidence that contradicts the prosecution’s narrative. This might include alibis, medical records indicating that injuries were self-inflicted or resulted from accidents, or communications suggesting the accuser attempted to reconcile. 

Character Witnesses and Expert Testimony

Your attorney may bring in character witnesses to attest to your peaceful disposition and non-violent nature. They may also engage psychology, medicine, or forensics experts to provide insights that can challenge the prosecution’s interpretation of the evidence.

The Bottom LineAccusing a partner of domestic violence can have far-reaching and unintended implications for both the accuser and the accused. Even if your accuser changes their mind and no longer wishes to testify against you, sufficient evidence could convince prosecutors to move forward with your case. For this reason, it’s never wise to assume the incident is over once the anger subsides or your partner has a change of heart. Once the police get involved, the alleged domestic violence becomes a matter for the state to decide–and for that reason alone, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney in your corner. If you have recently been arrested on suspicion of domestic battery, criminal threats, or other forms of domestic violence in southern California, call our offices to schedule a consultation

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