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June 11, 2010

New Decision- New York Courts Prohibit Evidence Of Prior Assaults In Domestic Violence Cases

By Michael H. Joseph

As a New York criminal defense lawyer in New York I have handled many domestic violence cases in New York City including the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Westchester, including White Plains, Yonkers, New Rochelle, Ossining, Port Chester, Rye, Greenburgh, New Rochelle, Mount Kisco, Mamaroneck, Irvington, Sleepy Hollow, Dobbs Ferry, Elmsford and Mount Vernon

Every New York and Westchester County criminal defense attorney, who has handled domestic violence cases where the complaintant curiously complains of years of prior acts of abuse to bolster their cases and get back at those they accused. In these circumstances, Judges often set high bail, even though these claims of abuse usually have no corroboration such as photos depicting injuries, prior complaints to the police or even medical records.

To prevent those accused with domestic violence from being convicted based upon unsupported allegations of prior abuse, the New York Appellate Court (Second Department) recently reversed an assault conviction arising out of domestic violence, where the Judge allowed the jury to hear testimony that the defendant previously abused the complaintant. Unfortunately juries are easily swayed by these often bogus claims of prior domestic abuse.

The Court clearly held that evidence of similar uncharged crimes as a general rule must be excluded from evidence because it may induce a jury to base a finding of guilt on collateral matters or may induce the jury to convict a defendant because of his past. If the only purpose of the evidence of prior acts is to show an alleged bad character or propensity towards crime, it is not admissible because there is a very real danger that the trier of fact will overestimate its significance of the evidence. Evidence of prior uncharged crimes is admissible if it establishes some element of the crime or if there is a recognized exception to the general rule such as intent, motive, knowledge, common scheme or plan, or identity of the defendant. The Prosecutor must identify some issue, other than mere criminal propensity, to which the prior evidence of abuse is relevant.

The Court clearly held that the mere fact that the defendant maintained his innocence of the crimes charged did not make identity an issue. Nor is enhancing or bolstering the credibility of the complainant, a recognized exception.

Criminal attorneys in New York City and Westchester that handle domestic violence cases should use this decision to move in limine and prohibit the introduction of this type of evidence in advance because once the cat is out of the bag, the prejudice cannot be cured.

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