What Are the Best Defenses in Florida Domestic Violence Cases?
The State of Florida takes domestic violence allegations very seriously. That’s why special rules of evidence, procedure, and punishments all apply. By the time a defendant posts bond, prosecutors have already begun building their case.
Prioritizing a strong defense is important. The impact of a conviction for domestic violence, as defined in F.S. 741.28, goes beyond the risk of jail time, large fines, intrusive monitoring, and mandated interventions. The social stigma and opportunity roadblocks posed by a permanent public record for a violent crime isn’t easily shed.The Evidence Against You
To prove guilt in a Florida domestic violence battery case, prosecutors must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant either:
- Actually and intentionally touched or struck a family or household member (as defined in the statute) against their will, OR
- Intentionally caused bodily harm to another the alleged victim.
In addition to battery, defendants in domestic violence cases may be facing other related charges, such as: assault (F.S. 784.011 - second-degree misdemeanor), aggravated assault (F.S. 784.021 - third-degree felony), aggravated battery (F.S. 784.045 - second-degree felony), felony battery (F.S. 784.041 - third-degree felony), domestic battery by strangulation (F.S. 784.041(2)(a) - third-degree felony), stalking (F.S. 784.048 - first-degree misdemeanor), and aggravated stalking (F.S. 784.048(3) - third-degree felony).
Evidence presented to the court by prosecutors may include:
- Cell phone records (text and voicemail messages, photos, video recordings, etc.)
- Eyewitness testimony
- Expert witness testimony (professionals in fields like healthcare, mental/psychiatric/psychological care, law enforcement, etc.)
- Photographs or video of the scene in the aftermath
- Character witnesses
- Security camera footage
- Medical records
Note: The state doesn’t need the alleged victim’s testimony or cooperation to proceed with prosecution of a domestic violence case. An alleged victim’s refusal to testify can certainly weaken a prosecutor’s case, but they have no say in whether the case moves forward or not.
What’s more, prosecutors in domestic violence cases have been known to lean heavily on the “excited utterance” exception to hearsay, detailed in F.S. 90.803(2). It’s frequently used when the victim isn’t cooperative - and officers responding to domestic violence scenes are actually trained to produce reports that record excited utterances and other hearsay exceptions. An excited utterance, as explained in the 1988 Florida Supreme Court case of State v. Jano, is a statement that relates to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition. Among the most common excited utterance exceptions to the hearsay rule in Florida domestic violence cases are 911 call recordings and transcripts. Usually in order to be an exception, the statement must have been made
If you’re arrested for domestic violence in South Florida, an immediate investment in the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer is an imperative to protect your freedom, your reputation, and your future.Defending Against Allegations of Domestic Violence
In representing clients charged with domestic violence, there are usually a few different promising defense strategies we can deploy. These may include:
- Absence of injuries
- Mutual combat or consensual confrontation
- Stand Your Ground
- Dispute of key facts
- Lack of corroborating evidence
- Defense of others
- Defense of property
- Vindictive accuser
- Lack of accuser credibility
In addition to these, motions to suppress certain evidence can substantially weaken the state’s case.
For example, in challenging admission of certain testimony under the excited utterance hearsay exception rule, a defense lawyer may argue it doesn’t qualify because it was made too long after the event or was “testimonial,” as outlined in the 2004 U.S. Supreme Court case of U.S. v. Crawford.
Similarly, while medical statements made by an accuser to a healthcare provider may be admissible via the hearsay exception, defense lawyers may cite the 2000 case of State v. Frazier, in which the Fla. 5th DCA ruled any statements in this context identifying the perpetrator aren’t admissible because it’s not pertinent to diagnosis or treatment.
Even if these motions don’t result in the charge being dismissed outright, they may damage the prosecutor’s case enough to compel them to more readily agree to a plea bargain with terms more favorable to the defense.
It’s worth pointing out that the extent to which any defense tactic is effective usually depends (at least in part) on:
- How soon you contacted and hired a defense lawyer.
- How skilled the defense lawyer is.
- How much you said to police or in digital/recorded messages to others before you contacted that lawyer.
Defendants are often their own worst enemies. That’s often especially true in domestic violence cases. Many are driven by the urge to explain themselves - to the other person, the police, and friends/family. But these situations are often emotionally messy and highly-charged, so words are rarely articulated in a way that’s actually going to help your defense. Because domestic violence cases so often come down to he-said-she-said, your credibility is of paramount importance. The less you say, the better. Let your lawyer talk for you.
While there is never a guarantee of any particular outcome in a criminal matter, our Broward domestic violence defense attorneys have enough technical knowledge and practical experience that we can often provide a general outline of the best case, worst case, and most likely scenarios. We want our clients to be able to make informed decisions about how to proceed.Hiring Defense Lawyer Immediately is Your Best Defense
When you’re accused of a crime - particularly one like domestic violence that has the potential to so profoundly impact your daily life - hiring a good criminal defense lawyer should be top on your priority list. Your odds of a charge being dropped, reduced, or diverted are long without a skilled defense attorney at your side.
Some of the upsides of promptly hiring a private defense lawyer:
- Signals your intent to staunchly defend yourself. Florida domestic violence cases pose many difficulties for prosecutors as it is. They’re often he-said-she-said situations, and victims are notoriously reluctant to cooperate once tensions have cooled. State attorneys aren’t often keen to back down just because you hired a private defense lawyer. However, they will recognize upfront that boilerplate approaches that may fly with overburdened public defenders won’t work with us.
- Sound advice on when to speak - and when to stay silent. By far the most significant mistake most criminal defendants make is talking to police without a defense lawyer present. It is exceedingly rare that a defendant does themselves any favors by talking to law enforcement. Officers can be intimidating, and the prospect of jail is upsetting. But the reality is you will almost never talk your way out of a criminal charge. All you’re doing is giving ammo to the prosecution. Stay tight-lipped and ask for a lawyer before you answer any questions.
- Greater success in early negotiations. Florida domestic violence charges are often most effectively addressed if your lawyer is involved in the very early stages - ideally before prosecutors have formally filed charges. A defense lawyer onboarded right away has the advantage of reaching out to prosecutors immediately. In these exchanges, we can outline case weaknesses, credibility issues, and mitigating circumstances in a way that may sway a prosecutor to reduce or drop the charges - or refrain from filing them in the first place.
- Productive contact with the alleged victim. If you’re accused of domestic violence, avoiding contact with the victim is a good idea for many reasons - not the least of which being there is probably a no-contact order in place. The fastest way to end up back behind bars after you’ve bonded out is to violate a no contact order. However, your defense lawyer isn’t subject to that order. We may be able to help you resolve certain practical issues with the alleged victim (living arrangements, parenting time schedules, joint business ventures, etc.) while the case is pending without jeopardizing your freedom.
- Favorable terms for pretrial release. Pretrial release terms set forth by the court will be binding unless modified - with serious consequences for violations. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can advocate for pretrial release terms and bond amounts that are reasonable under the circumstances. We can also request modification of those terms if some aspect of an existing order isn’t working.
- Advice on voluntarily seeking help. In cases where the evidence against a defendant is pretty solid, sometimes voluntarily seeking intervention such as counseling, substance abuse treatment, or mental health services can help soften a prosecutor’s resolve to take a hard line. A defendant who shows a willingness to take responsibility may be likely to receive more favorable terms in a plea deal, sentencing, pretrial intervention, etc. But what you don’t want is to initiate such actions and admissions without the guidance of an experienced attorney.
If you are arrested for domestic violence in South Florida, call The Ansara Law Firm today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.