Is Evidence of Prior Bad Acts Admissible in Florida Domestic Violence Cases?

Defendants in Florida domestic violence cases should understand that while they still have the rights of most other criminal defendants, the justice system does deviate in its approach and practices in several respects with these cases. For example, you’re still presumed innocent until proven guilty, but if there is a protective order issued in conjunction with your arrest, you may be compelled to forfeit your right to carry firearms while that order remains in place. Another example is with regard to what type of evidence is allowed to be considered. Fort Lauderdale domestic violence lawyer

Prior bad acts of misconduct are generally not admissible in court to show that a defendant acted in conformity with misconduct on any occasion. In other words, you can’t just point to something else bad a person did – especially if they were never convicted of it – and assert or insinuate that the person’s bad character indicates a greater propensity to commit the crime in question. Just because you made a poor choice or acted badly in the past doesn’t necessarily mean you are guilty of the crime before the court.

There are some exceptions where it may be relevant to establish one’s motive, identity, mistake, intent, or common modus operandi. But in domestic violence cases, which tend to turn on the issue of credibility AND victims often refuse to testify, Florida courts are increasingly allowing evidence of prior bad acts of a defendant to be considered.

Why Prosecutors Want Prior Bad Acts Admitted

Prosecutors have reasoned that offering up evidence of historic acts of violence between the parties involved – or even involving the defendant and other individuals – provides important context of the pair’s relationship dynamics. They argue:

  • It provides context for establishing the crime as part of an abusive pattern.
  • Gives the jury a basis for understanding why the act occurred (intent and motive).
  • Discredit’s a defendant’s assertion of self-defense. (This can be especially effective when paired with expert witness testimony pertaining to the effects that a history of violence can have on the alleged victim’s behavior – i.e., failure to report abuse, staying with an abuser, etc.)
  • Helps prosecutors overcome evidentiary issues stemming from lack of victim cooperation as a witness.

They may even argue that evidence of prior bad acts is res gestae or inextricably linked with or intrinsic to the criminal act at issue – meaning it’s essential to understanding the events surrounding the incident.

As our Fort Lauderdale domestic violence defense lawyers can explain, this evidence can be the difference between conviction and acquittal.

We Fight for Your Rights and Best Interests

The admission of such evidence is subject to the discretion of the judge, who will consider factors such as the probative value of the evidence versus its potential for prejudice. In addition, evidence of prior bad acts by the victim is generally not admissible in a domestic violence case, except in very limited circumstances.

As defense lawyers, we’re committed to fighting against admission of prior bad acts.

It’s worth noting that admission of uncharged misconduct evidence is one of the most frequently litigated issues in domestic violence conviction appeals – and one of the most effective. It’s widely understood to be one of the most common grounds for reversal of a domestic violence conviction.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

When Prior Bad Acts are Probative, September 2017, National Crime Victim Law Institute

More Blog Entries:

Big Penalties For Firearm Possession While Subject to Florida Domestic Violence Injunction, Jan. 10, 2023, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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