Defending Domestic Violence Defendants

(Please understand that the answers to these questions are general in nature and may not cover every individual situation.)

Innocent or guilty, the defendant in a domestic violence case is a person with the right to a fair trial. By definition, the offender is a spouse, sibling, parent, friend or close relation. It is easy for a third party observer so say, “Send them to jail and throw away the key.” Due to the nature of Domestic Violence, these cases are fraught with several emotional and legal pitfalls that the defense attorney must be aware of and be able to address. The role of a defense attorney is to represent the defendant’s rights in court.

In a recent domestic violence case, State v. Labrum (State v. Labrum, 751 Utah Adv. Rep. 9), Mr. Labrum and his wife were involved in a domestic incident. At trial, the State wanted to show that Mr. Labrum has done this before, in spite of the fact that no charges had been filed. Mr. Labrum believed that information should be kept out of the record due to an evidentiary rule that precludes former ‘bad acts’ from proving he committed the act in question (Rule 404(b) Utah Rules of Evidence).

Mr. Labrum’s defense focused on that principal, but failed to appreciate the language of the rest of the statue, which allows for the same evidence to come into the record if it proves other purposes such as motive or opportunity (Rule 404(b)(1) Utah Rules of Evidence). Utilizing that portion of the statute, the State introduced the evidence, which led to Mr. Labrum’s conviction and loss of his appeal.

Domestic violence, in any form, is unacceptable. Please remember that defense attorneys do not condone the actions of their client’s, they defend the rights of people; brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.

While great sensitivity and empathy is appropriately granted to the victim, there is still hope for the guilty once one has accounted for one’s actions. Viewing a defendant as a person will help to understand what forces or triggers led to the commission of the crime. With that knowledge, it may be possible to prevent domestic violence from happening again.

If you are involved with domestic violence of any kind, seek professional help right away. If you have been charged with a domestic violence crime, seek the counsel of a lawyer who knows how to defend your rights.

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