Domestic violence is often a dirty secret kept hidden behind closed doors. Friends and family are often not aware of the abuse. If the abuse is reported to the authorities, the spouse is often reluctant to follow through with charges.
This makes it difficult to prosecute the offender, even when the abuse turns violent, which is exactly when evidence is the most crucial. However, the complexity of evidence in domestic violence can also stall even the best-planned case.
Types of Evidence in Domestic Violence Cases
Juries and judges expect to hear and see evidence in any type of criminal case, which includes cases involving domestic violence.
Did you know that one in three women and one in four men experience some form of violence at the hands of their partners? The type of violence varies from shoving and pushing to slapping, hitting, and kicking. Regardless of the type of abuse, you have a legal right to press charges.
Once charges are filed, stopping the legal process is difficult, and even if you’re too afraid or ashamed to continue with your case, a prosecutor can decide to continue moving forward. While your testimony is extremely helpful, a domestic violence case can also stand on evidence alone—after all, even with your testimony, evidence is still needed to support your claim.
There are five common types of evidence used in domestic violence cases:
Here’s a more in-depth look at these types of evidence and how it can help support your domestic violence claim.
Testimonies are given under oath. If the witness lies, perjury charges are possible. Perjury is a misdemeanor offense that carries fines and potential jail time. The punishment for perjury is typically left up to the presiding judge.
Most testimonies are given in open court, but there can be exceptions. If the defendant intimates or threatens the witness, occasionally, asylum may be granted. This allows the witness to deliver their testimony in writing or by video. Along with your testimony as the victim, the prosecuting attorney may also call direct, expert, and character witnesses.
Direct witnesses are individuals with firsthand knowledge of the abuse; they witnessed the violence against you on one or more occasions.
Expert witnesses do not need direct knowledge of your abusive situation. Instead, they’re experts in their field and are called to clarify points the court may not be familiar with.
Character witnesses may not be able to testify about the abuse, but they can verify your character.
Sometimes, character witnesses are a vital part of your domestic violence case. Your abusive partner may try to discredit you in court and these witnesses can refute the defense’s claims.
Physical evidence is tangible; the judge and jury can hear or see the evidence. Some examples of physical evidence include but are not limited to:
- Emails and text messages
- Audio recording
- Social media posts
- Ripped clothing
- Weapons used in the attack
- Letters and other types of documents
Even torn-up documents can be entered as evidence in a domestic violence case. The primary requirement is the evidence must be related to supporting your claim. In other words, your attorney can only introduce relevant information.
Documentary evidence can also be physical, hearsay, or original evidence. There are a few types of documentary evidence that can be introduced in a domestic violence case:
- Medical documents describing your injuries or emotional state. Some witnesses may also qualify as documentary evidence. For example, a nurse witnessing abusive behavior towards you during admittance or at a routine medical checkup.
- Reports issued by the police documenting the abuse or suspected violent behavior
- If your partner is going through another criminal case. Documents from the other case may be relevant to yours
- Letters from organizations that support victims of domestic violence
Your attorney may also introduce letters from organizations that support people in difficult situations, like social services.
Hearsay evidence is a touchy subject, because since the evidence is hearsay since it can’t be verified. While hearsay testimony is rarely allowed in court, it can often be introduced during the penalty phase.
This type of testimony isn’t as powerful as physical evidence, but don’t discount it as completely worthless. Sometimes, hearsay can be used to back up a photo or audio recording. Hearsay can be the difference between the abuser getting a light or harsher penalty.
Original evidence is a little harder to explain than some other types, and it’s used to corroborate your claim of domestic violence. For example, if your partner threatens to kill you during an assault, tou can use their threat to support your claim of being in a life-threatening situation.
Since original evidence is similar to hearsay, it’s not always admissible in court. However, it doesn’t hurt to try to get it in, and sometimes, original evidence is introduced during your testimony. As you describe the violent incident, you can also repeat the words and phrases used during the attack.
Safely Gathering Evidence
Unfortunately, it’s often up to the victim to gather evidence of their abuse, but this can be, and often is, extremely dangerous to do. After all, abusers don’t want their dirty secret getting out and victims rarely relish placing themselves at risk.
However, if you can document at least some of the abuse, it can go a long way towards proving your case—and it can include discretely recording your abusive partner, taking pictures of your injuries, and most importantly, reporting the abuse to others. Even if it’s only a close friend or family member, it helps to have additional support.
To help ensure your safety, keep the collected evidence in a secure place, which typically means out of the house. You should also have copies of everything stored separately, just in case.
Contact a Divorce Attorney Specializing in Domestic Violence
Remaining in an abusive relationship is not advisable, as such situations seldom improve and often escalate in severity. If you find yourself in the grips of domestic violence, it is crucial to seek help immediately.
Whether it’s reaching out to the authorities or consulting a divorce attorney, these professionals can provide essential assistance in safely exiting the relationship. They not only prioritize your safety and well-being but also work diligently to ensure that your partner is held accountable for their actions, thereby preventing further harm to you or others.