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Are Prior Allegations Of Domestic Violence Admissible In A Criminal Trial?

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Are Prior Allegations Of Domestic Violence Admissible In A Criminal Trial?


When you are on trial for a criminal offense, the prosecution is not allowed to introduce evidence of your “bad character” for purposes of establishing your guilt or innocence. Generally, this means that prosecutors cannot tell the jury about any “prior bad acts” that you may have committed to prove you committed the crime that you are actually being tried for. That said, there are circumstances where a judge may allow “extraneous-offense” evidence for other purposes, such as to prove motive.

In cases involving allegations of family violence–i.e., domestic violence–Texas law also permits the admission of evidence regarding “all relevant facts and circumstances” that may help a jury decide a defendant’s guilt or innocence, including any testimony “regarding the nature of the relationship between the actor and the alleged victim.” In other words, if you are accused of assaulting a spouse, partner, or other family or household member, prosecutors may introduce evidence regarding any prior acts of abuse involving that same person.

Brazoria County Man Receives 20 Years for Assaulting Former Girlfriend

A recent case from the Texas First District Court of Appeals, Camacho v. State, provides an illustration of how this rule works in practice. This case involves a defendant and his former girlfriend (the accuser). Although the couple never married, they did have a child together. During the pregnancy, the defendant began a relationship with another woman, although he continued to be involved with the accuser, and in fact had a second child with her.

One day in November 2018, the accuser had to go to work and asked the defendant to come care for their children. When the defendant arrived at the accuser’s house, she said he was “very drunk.” There was a brief argument and the defendant left. The victim said the defendant returned soon thereafter. He yelled at her and “pulled her down to the floor by her hair.” The victim said she grabbed a kitchen knife to defend herself. The defendant then responded by placing her in a headlock and choking her to the point where she could not breathe. Eventually, she said he let her go, but a few moments later he “swiped at her with a knife, grazing her leg.” The accuser then fled to a neighbor’s home and called the police.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. At trial, the judge admitted evidence regarding prior allegations of domestic violence by the defendant against the accuser. The judge instructed the jury it could consider such evidence only with respect to the “nature of the relationship” between the parties. The jury ultimately returned a guilty verdict and the judge sentenced the defendant to 20 years in prison.

On appeal, the First District said the trial court “acted within its discretion in admitting evidence of extraneous acts of domestic violence.” The appellate court noted this evidence was particularly useful given the accuser later “changed her story about what had occurred with respect to the charged offense.” She told prosecutors she did not want to testify against the defendant. The First District said the prior acts of domestic violence helped place the accuser’s reluctance into context–namely, that the defendant had engaged in a pattern of “controlling and aggressive behavior.”

Contact Pearland, Texas, Assault & Battery Attorney Keith French Today

When you are charged with a crime, particularly one involving a partner or family member, you should never assume the case will go away simply because your accuser recants. It is crucial that you work with a qualified Pearland criminal defense lawyer. Contact the office of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today, if you need to speak with someone right away.

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