Domestic Violence Charges No Excuse for Taking Judicial Shortcuts
If you have been accused of domestic violence, you have the same rights as anyone else accused of a crime. It is not enough for an accuser to present unsubstantiated allegations. Before granting a domestic violence protection order, a judge must determine there is “competent, substantial evidence” supporting the accusation. You also have a right to be represented by an attorney at any hearing.
Judge Forces Domestic Violence Defendant to Represent Himself at Trial
Unfortunately, judges sometimes take shortcuts with defendants’ rights. In one recent case, for example, a Florida appeals court reversed a trial judge’s decision to grant a domestic violence protection order after concluding there was insufficient evidence to support the accuser’s claims. The appeals court also criticized the trial court for requiring the defendant to proceed without the assistance of counsel.
The accuser was the defendant’s former girlfriend. She claimed the defendant was responsible for a number of threatening acts, including vandalizing her car. The defendant denied responsibility. He testified in court that he had not seen the accuser for several months and noted that he was a responsible local business owner with no criminal record.
After granting a 15-day temporary restraining order, a trial court held a hearing on whether to grant a permanent domestic violence protection order. The defendant’s attorney asked for a continuance of the original trial date due to a scheduling conflict. The judge denied the continuance, forcing the defendant to represent himself at the hearing. The judge subsequently granted the permanent order.
In February 2016, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal overruled the trial court’s decision. The appeals court noted there was “no competent evidence that [the defendant] committed the acts” alleged. Indeed, before the trial court all the accuser could offer was secondhand hearsay that a person meeting the defendant’s general description—i.e., an African-American male—was seen vandalizing the accuser’s car.
The only other evidence supporting the trial court’s order was a June 2012 incident where the accuser said the defendant “busted her lip.” An isolated act of domestic violence, the appeals court explained, was not enough to support a protective order, especially when the incident occurred “approximately 20 months” before the accuser filed her complaint.
The appeals court also commented on the trial judge’s refusal to grant a continuance so the defendant’s lawyer could be present for the hearing. The appeals court said other Florida courts have held denying access to counsel in domestic violence cases could amount to a due process violation. The court further noted there was already a preliminary injunction in place, which the trial court could have extended during any continuance period, thereby ensuring the accuser’s interests were still protected.
Have You Been Falsely Accused of Domestic Violence?
If you are accused of domestic violence, you need to take the charges seriously. An experienced Miami domestic violence defense lawyer can help ensure judges respect your due process rights. Contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.