Almost more than any other type of criminal case, cases involving alleged domestic violence hinge on witness and victim testimony. Prosecutors depend on witnesses to show up in court, cooperate and convincingly tell the truth for defendants to be found guilty.
Understanding the key role that testimony plays in an assault case—specifically a domestic violence case—can give you unique insight into the decisions prosecutors make about the cases they handle.
Burden of Proof: What You Should Know
Many people don’t think about the complex ways the law operates until they need to, like when they become involved in criminal cases. For example, you might not have realized that a prosecutor in a criminal case bears the responsibility for proving that the defendant committed the crime (the “burden of proof”). Legally speaking, the defendant does not prove that they are innocent; they just present evidence that tends to show that the prosecutor could be wrong. Proving the case is the prosecutor’s job.
A prosecutor must show that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard of proof that is challenging to meet. For a prosecutor to obtain a conviction, they must show that no reasonable person would doubt any part of the charges.
An Alleged Victim’s Testimony Is Often the Strongest Evidence
In domestic violence cases, the alleged victim’s testimony is often the prosecutor’s strongest evidence. (Remember, the prosecutor needs strong evidence to meet the high burden of proof.) Other evidence—such as a police officer’s testimony about having seen bruises on the alleged victim, for example—is simply not as conclusive or convincing. Without the victim’s testimony, a reasonable person would not necessarily conclude that the bruises were caused by domestic violence.
Does this mean that a case cannot proceed if the victim chooses not to testify? Not at all. Each case is different, and there are many situations in which other evidence is strong enough for prosecutors to obtain a conviction without testimony. But, lack of evidence is one reason that many prosecutors choose to drop charges, charge defendants with lesser crimes, or settle criminal cases instead of taking them to trial.
Why Do Accusers Choose Not to Testify?
There are many reasons domestic violence accusers choose not to testify. One is that domestic violence allegations are often made up by people to hurt the accused—gaining leverage in a nasty divorce or seeking revenge after a bad break-up, for example. When it comes down to lying in court, many alleged victims are unable to follow through with their original plans.
It is common for matters to escalate and end in allegations of domestic violence, but it doesn’t mean that an accuser’s words will be effectively used against you in court. Still, you must take the allegations seriously. Talk with a lawyer about what the testimony could mean in your case.