Association of Prosecuting AttorneysMay 21, 2012
New Florida Law Will Allow More Domestic Violence Cases to Proceed
MANATEE - Prosecutors often drop domestic violence cases because the victims or crucial witnesses refuse to cooperate. Because of the lobbying efforts of several victim advocates in Manatee County, however, juries may soon hear victims' or witnesses' accounts of what happened anyway - even if those people do not take the stand. A new provision in state law could enable prosecutors to instead rely on prior statements to authorities instead of live testimony. "The state was dropping all the charges frequently, which gives batterers the message they can batter with impunity and they will not be punished," Susan McMillan of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project said. Bennett and Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, successfully got a measure passed that Gov. Rick Scott recently signed into law. The revision to the state evidence code applies to all criminal trials but is expected to be especially useful in domestic violence cases. Now, at the discretion of a judge, prosecutors can introduce a person's prior statements to investigators if that witness - for example, a battered wife who has been warned by her husband not to testify - becomes uncooperative. Before the new rule, prosecutors did not rely on prior statements when they could not depend on live testimony because every criminal defendant has a constitutional right to cross-examine an accuser. Getting a statement admitted as an alternative to live testimony will not always be easy, though. In a pre-trial hearing, a prosecutor will have to convince the judge that the statement is necessary because the defendant has knowingly obstructed justice by convincing a victim or witness to refuse to testify truthfully.