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Do The Prosecutors Actually Need Their Victim To Testify In Order To Prove A Domestic Violence Case In Los Angeles County?

Over the course of the last twenty-five years, I’ve handled hundreds of domestic violence/spousal abuse cases in the LA county courts. In general, I would say yes, the prosecutors do need to have their victim available to testify in order to prove the case against the defendant. However, there are a number of exceptions where the prosecutors can proceed with a criminal case without the alleged victim actually testifying against the defendant.

One example is, there’s a case called Crawford, that in general permits the prosecutors to use evidence of Domestic Violencethe victim’s statement without actually having the victim testify. A case I recently did in the Valencia courthouse – the prosecutors had a 9-1-1 tape where the alleged victim had called, made a statement with 9-1-1, then hung up and the prosecutors could not get the alleged victim to court, so they instead requested that the judge permit them to use the 9-1-1 tape along with other evidence that they had in order to attempt to prove the case. The judge permitted this procedure and the 9-1-1 tape came in. It was actually pretty powerful evidence in the case because it had the alleged victim spelling out what she claimed happened at the time, and obviously if the jury believed what she said then they would have convicted my client because it had all the elements of the crime.

After that, they had the detective come in to say how she looked, what her demeanor was, how the house looks – in other words, to set up things circumstantially to go along with the 9-1-1 statement in order to prove the case against my client. When the prosecution was done with their case, this was pretty powerful evidence. There was some inconsistences with her story that was presented via the 9-1-1 tape and what we ended up doing was calling my client obviously, as a witness so he could give his version of events and then we ended up locating the alleged victim and we called her as a witness, because now after she had time to reflect on what happened, she had changed some serious parts of her case and ultimately, the jury ended up finding my client not guilty and the case was dismissed and my client was able to move on with his life.

So, this is a common thing where the alleged victim doesn’t want to testify because they either have change of heart. At the time they were angry, and they embellished their story, so now they want to make it right. There’s all sorts of different reasons that an alleged victim wouldn’t want to testify in a case. A lot of times I push cases to trial and if the alleged victim doesn’t show up – especially if there’s problems with the case – the prosecutors will dismiss the case and my client can move on with his life. So, usually it’s actually helpful to the defense’s case if the alleged victim does not show up, but a lot of times – if it’s a serious enough case – I’ve seen in felony cases with real bad injuries, multiple domestic violence or spousal abuse charges in the LA courts against a particular defendant and now he has a new case – the prosecutors are going to pull out all stops when they feel like they have a very violent and dangerous person and they will actually send the police out to get the alleged victim, serve a subpoena on them if they don’t show up. They’ll have the judge issue a body attachment. They’ll go and arrest the person and they’ll make them testify and when they try to say something different than what they said, they’ll challenge them and say, wait a minute, you said something different at the time. Why would you change your story now? Then, they’re going to bring the police in and the police are going to come in and testify to what the person said at the time of the incident, at the time of the arrest, in order to challenge the now-recanting alleged victim. These can be pretty effective. Jurors will look at it and say, yeah this sounds like the person just changed their story in order to help the other person.

So, this whole issue of people not wanting to testify is nothing new to criminal defense. It’s nothing new to domestic violence cases, however, it’s up to an experienced criminal defense attorney to know how to handle this situation to the benefit of their client in order to get the best possible result – whether it be by way of a dismissal, or maybe a lesser charge – there’s all sorts of different angles that can be utilized when you have a situation where the alleged victim does not want to testify and does not want to help the prosecutors try to convict a criminal defendant – obviously, because they love the person; they’ve got family with them. Maybe that person is their source of income. There’s all sorts of different reasons people don’t want to testify. I’ve seen it’s because they were made at the time they gave their original statement – they had some sort of a beef with the person – they were drinking alcohol – there’s all sorts of different reasons, and now they realize, Oh My God, I’ve got this person in trouble. They’re now looking at a jail time – I need to make things right here, so, the bottom line is this – if you’re charged with a domestic violence of spousal abuse case in LA county, you need to get in with a seasoned criminal defense attorney and let them help strategize what’s best for you.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER FOR SUCCESSFUL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DEFENSE IN LOS ANGELES

Spousal abuse or domestic violence related cases are one of the most commonly charged crimes in Los Angeles. As we know, people get in arguments all the time and when they turn violent, the police are called out and faced with dealing with the problem. To further complicate matters, law enforcement has seen a political backlash that has put pressure on them to do something significant when they go out to the scene of a domestic violence incident. That something significant is to arrest someone, put them in jail and make them post a $50,000 dollar bail to get out!

Now in LA, the polices’ marching orders from the top officials is to arrest who they deem as the “aggressor” in the the argument. This can be a little tricky for them to figure out. Tempers are usually high, people are upset and not all the truth typically comes out of their mouth. This leaves the police to make decisions in dealing with a not so easy situation. Suffice to say, they do not always make the right decisions and this is where your criminal defense attorney is necessary to turn the tide and get your version of events out to the powers that be. How they usually break the tie is by looking to see who has the worst injury and then arresting the other person. Of course this does not always achieve the right result.

Over the course of the past 25 years I have been defending these cases and let me tell you I have seen it all. I can not tell you how many times I have had to explain to people that just because your significant other wants to take back everything they said in the heat of the moment, does not mean the prosecutors will dismiss the case. If that was the reality of things, they they would probably dismiss 80% of the cases they filed. The case will have to be resolved in another way. How the domestic violence case is dealt with in Los Angeles County depends on the posture of the case and the strength of the prosecution’s evidence. If there are no injuries on the alleged victim, their story does not make sense and they are not willing to cooperate with the prosecutors, then this will be a tough road for the government to get a conviction under these circumstances. However, not all cases are like this and there are a myriad of different nuances that present themselves. This is where the best criminal defense attorneys are invaluable in figuring out what to do and how to defend the case the right way.

When I meet with clients, I like to get all of the facts out on the table. This includes the good, the bad and the ugly of what happened. Putting a spin on things really doesn’t do us any good. I need the details of what happened and I need them from the police’s perspective, so I can assess if we can effectively counter them. Just giving me your side of the story ends up leaving important pieces of the puzzle out of the equation and it is difficult to truly craft a solution. Once we have everything out related to the incident, then we can set about figuring out what needs to be done to achieve the best result in the case. Should it go to trial? Is this a case that should be negotiated? To answer these questions, we must have an honest conversation and then I can use my years of experience and the background of having done many jury trials to assist in figuring out the right moves to make.

PENAL CODE SECTION 273.5 – THE LAW RELATED TO A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASE IN LOS ANGELES

In order to be charged and convicted of a domestic violence case, the prosecutors must prove that you inflicted a physical injury on the person of your spouse. Of course this has to be done in an unlawful manner. This is where the rub comes in because there are many circumstances where a spouse is injured during an argument and the other spouse is trying to defend themselves during the attack of the spouse that is now the alleged victim in a domestic violence prosecution. If someone attacks you, you are allowed to use reasonable force to defend yourself. The question becomes what it reasonable under the totality of the circumstances in your case and how do you prove your version of events when your spouse told a crazy story while wrapped up in the emotions of the situation and faced with the police grilling them over.

Domestic Violence is the mental, physical and/or verbal abuse of a spouse, child, family member, cohabitant or loved one. It may involve kicking, hitting, punching, pushing, name calling and intimidation. Domestic violence is considered to be a very aggressive crime in nature and is one of many violent crimes that often go unreported as well as the more underestimated crimes of intimidation, stalking, and criminal threats. Due to this, it is important to work with an experienced defense attorney who can protect your rights if you are accused of domestic violence.

If you have been accused of or arrested for domestic violence, call a domestic abuse lawyer at our law firm to discuss your case in further detail. As experienced attorneys, we can provide professional guidance and advice for your case.

Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

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