Domestic violence cases can be incredibly complex. Dismissal rates are staggering, as people who are involved in disputes with intimate partners and/or family members are often uncooperative (due to various, intricate aspects of domestic violence) or are bound by spousal privilege laws.
Although much work needs to be done in terms of increasing cooperativeness in these cases, like denouncing victim blaming rhetoric in social settings, for example, prosecutors are doing all they can to convict batterers in today's evidential condition. One method of successfully doing so is commonly exercising hearsay exceptions in domestic violence cases.
The Complexities of Domestic Violence and Hearsay
Hearsay is an out-of-court statement that is made other than the witness that is reporting it. It is banned in most criminal cases to prevent juries from considering secondhand information that cannot be subject to cross-examination - therefore, it is deemed unreliable.
Victims in domestic violence cases tend to either fail to show up in court to testify against their abuser, or renounce their testimony altogether. These actions leave prosecutors with no choice but to use statements outside the confines of court that meet hearsay exceptions to constitute as evidence. While these exceptions are admissible in court, they are severely limited.
Prosecutors are only permitted to utilize hearsay exceptions for statements made to garner evidence for prosecution. These exceptions include:
Statements made for medical treatment and diagnosis
If a victim seeks medical treatment as a result of physical or emotional abuse from their abuser, and makes a statement about the nature of the abuse, it could be used in a criminal trial as evidence. The information in this statement is considered reliable if it assists medical professionals in recommending potential treatment for an injury.
Out-of-court statements that are made while a victim is under stress are considered admissible in court. These types of statements are deemed reliable because a victim does not have time to fabricate a testimony once an immediate outburst is declared. Although this is a pretty useful exception for prosecutors, it rarely happens in domestic violence cases. Domestic violence is oftentimes a pattern of behavior for batterers, which means that it rarely occurs within a single setting. Therefore, victims may not always react hysterically to most instances of continuable abuse.
Present tense impressions
Statements that are made immediately after an incident occurred or was perceived are considered reliable in domestic violence cases. This is because there is a decreased likelihood of a victim deliberately trying to misrepresent or outright falsify an account of events immediately after it occurs. Statements made to 911 operators while the abuse is ensuing or after an accident are often used as evidence through the utilization of this hearsay exception.
Domestic violence and child abuse remain prominent issues in North Carolina. Hearsay exceptions are essential for evidence-based convictions of batterers in state courtrooms.