November 9, 2020 By Wallin & Klarich

Domestic violence crimes continue to be a major issue in California across all socio-economic and age groups.  According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 32.9% of women and 27.3% of men in California are victims of domestic violence. California Penal Code 243(e)(1) classifies domestic violence as a misdemeanor punishable by one year in county jail. 

Penal Code Section  Section 273.5 classifies corporal injury to:

  • a spouse, 
  • co-habitant, 
  • co-parent, 
  • former spouse, 
  • fiancé /fiancée, 
  • or previous partner 

as a “wobbler” crime which means the prosecutor can file either a felony or misdemeanor charges.

Should Victims of Domestic Violence Testify in Court?

One of the most debatable topics regarding domestic violence is whether or not victims should be compelled to testify in court. The main concern of those who advocate to not compel victims of domestic violence to testify is the psychological effects on the victim having to reiterate a traumatic experience, as well as the possible threat of retaliation from the alleged abuser.

A notable public supporter for reforming current policy is former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. Gascón’s plan addresses the option of prosecutors and law enforcement in California to develop procedures as to how to treat domestic violence victims by providing support. The purpose is to encourage more victims to report abuse, the notion being that victims should feel safe enough to report domestic violence crimes without worrying about being coerced into testifying in front of their abuser.

Almost all experts would agree that domestic violence victims giving testimony in court are a daunting experience. However, there are consequences to not compelling victims of domestic violence to testimony in court.  District attorneys in support of having victims testify argue that it is the best way to keep victims safe and ensure their abusers are held accountable. Generally, statements made by victims of domestic violence to law enforcement officers which describe the attack are not admissible because they violate the defendant’s constitutional right to confront an adversarial witness. In Crawford v. Washington 541 U.S. 36 (2004), the court ruled that the testimonial statements of witnesses not present at trial are only admissible when the witness is unavailable, and if the defendant also had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness. 

The district attorney has the power to compel the victim’s testimony.  Supporters argue that this is a procedural safeguard for victims.  If the victim is subpoenaed, they can symbolically convey to their abuser that they did not willingly participate in the court proceeding.  However, in California, if a victim of domestic violence refuses to testify he or she cannot be sentenced to jail for making that decision.

Wallin & Klarich Criminal Defense Attorney Would like to Hear From You

Both arguments for or against Domestic Violence victims testifying in court are inherently valid. The key is determining which approach better serves victimized Californians and ensures long-term safety. Which approach do you think will ensure the long-term safety of Californians? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below!

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