Written Victim Statements in Domestic Violence Cases
Domestic Violence Cases in Vancouver WA May Not Be As Simple As They Appear.
Criminal Defense Attorney in Vancouver WA
Roger Priest is a criminal defense attorney in Vancouver WA with extensive courtroom experience in Washington’s complex criminal laws
There may be no independent witnesses in a domestic violence case and the only witnesses are the alleged victim and the defendant. In such cases, the prosecutor’s entire case can hinge on the alleged victim’s testimony. Given the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, many jurors will be less than impressed by a single witness case from the prosecution. This can be especially problematic where the alleged victim is recanting and no longer wishes to testify against their boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or family member.
For this reason, law enforcement investigating a domestic violence case will often ask (and sometimes bully) alleged victims into providing a written witness statement during the investigation. These written statements are called “Smith Affidavits” after the original case in Washington that discussed their admissibility at trial. These written statements can sometimes be entered as evidence for the jury to consider. This is true even if the alleged victim disagrees with what was written and testifies to the contrary. Basically, the prosecution can offer the written statement as evidence to discredit an alleged victim’s testimony at trial.
In a simple DV assault 4 case with no apparent injuries, such evidence might not make a whole lot of difference in the final outcome. If there’s no injury, the jury might not care too much to believe the prosecutor when they say that the jury should believe what the alleged victim wrote on the night of the incident versus what they’re testifying to at trial. However, in a more serious case of DV assault 2 where serious injuries have taken place, this can potentially be important evidence.
Imagine a case where a domestic violence crime is reported and police learn that the alleged victim was cut with a knife. During the investigation, the alleged victim says that she was intentionally stabbed and writes a written statement stating as much. Months later at trial, the alleged victim now doesn’t want the defendant to go to prison, so he or she claims that the cut was accidental while preparing a meal. A jury might be swayed by the written statement and convict even though the alleged victim claims at trial that this was not a crime.
“Smith Affidavits” can potentially be powerful evidence in the right (or wrong) case. However, they are only admissible in certain cases. First, the statement must be a sworn statement. This means it must be written under oath and signed by the alleged victim (under penalty of perjury). They may also be recorded audio. In either case, the author must know that he or she is writing this statement as a sworn affidavit and that there are consequences for lying.
Often, the police simply write the statement for the alleged victim and then tell them they have to sign the document. It might not have been explained to them that this was a sworn statement to be used in court. Sometimes, the writer might be extremely impaired by alcohol or drugs and have no recollection of writing the document. Sometimes, the police might not explain the document at all. Each of these situations may present an opportunity for a domestic violence criminal defense attorney to have the statement thrown out of court (ruled inadmissible at trial).
It is also important to note that the confrontation clause of the constitution requires that an alleged victim actually show up to trial before one of these statements could be offered as substantive evidence. They are not automatically admissible, but can only be offered if the alleged victim shows up to trial and either changes their story from the statement or states that they cannot remember what happened. If the alleged victim doesn’t show up to trial at all, then the written statement cannot be offered as evidence at the domestic violence trial.
Even if the Smith affidavit is admitted at trial, a skilled domestic violence lawyer can use it to help defend a case at trial. An alleged DV victim who has changed their story is not the best case for the prosecution in most cases. The prosecution will always argue that the change in story is because the defendant is abusive and the victim is only changing their story because they are scared of the defendant. However, it is more common that the alleged victim lied to the police during the initial investigation to keep themselves out of trouble for their own part in the situation. Some people know that if they lie to the police and say a crime was committed they can get the person arrested for the night. Domestic violence is sometimes a two way street and calling the cops can be used as a weapon rather than a shield. Having a good DV attorney at trial makes sure that the jury isn’t swept away by the prosecution’s “rose colored” version of events.
If you are facing a domestic violence case where there is a written victim statement, it pays to hire a skilled domestic violence attorney to help you defend against the charges. Without help, evidence might be admitted against you that you could have otherwise kept out of the trial. At Priest Criminal Defense, we offer a no-obligations free case evaluation in every case. We can explain your rights, evaluate your defense and help you avoid all of the consequences that can come along with a domestic violence criminal conviction. Call us today.
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