Protecting the Due Process Rights of Persons Accused of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence laws are designed to protect women, children, or anyone else suffering from the effects of abuse at the hands of a family or household member. A Florida court may issue a permanent injunction for protection against an individual when there is evidence presented of domestic abuse. But the law must also protect the due process rights of the accused. This is necessary to guard against potential abuse of domestic violence laws by persons who are not legitimate victims but simply want to manipulate the courts for some other reason, such as to gain an unfair advantage in a divorce or child custody proceeding.
Trial Judge Improperly Admitted New Allegations at Hearing
A key requirement of due process is that the accused must actually be informed of the domestic violence charges against them prior to appearing in court. Under Florida law, a person alleging domestic violence must file a written petition, under oath, which must “allege the existence of such domestic violence and shall include the specific facts and circumstances upon the basis of which relief is sought.” While the petition does not have to go into all of the potential evidence the accused may present at trial, it must provide sufficient notice so that the accused is able to prepare and offer a defense.
Courts take these petition requirements seriously. Here is a recent example from here in Miami. In June 2013, a judge issued a permanent domestic protection order in favor of a woman who alleged multiple acts of abuse by her former partner. At a June 2013 hearing on the accuser’s petition, she testified to at least six domestic abuse acts that were not mentioned in her original petition. The defendant objected, but the trial court admitted the testimony.
On appeal, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal, which has jurisdiction over all cases in Miami-Dade County, agreed with the defendant that the trial judge violated his due process rights. “Although the sworn petition did contain a number of specific allegations of domestic violence,” the appeals court said, “it did not contain the six acts and events” described in the accuser’s trial testimony. The defendant therefore never received proper notice of all of the allegations against him.
The accuser argued this should not affect her protection order, because there was no evidence the trial judge actually relied upon the inadmissible evidence in reaching his decision. But as the appeals court explained, when a case is tried before a judge without a jury, there is a presumption the court relied on all of the evidence it admitted. Unless a judge expressly stated he did not rely on evidence later ruled inadmissible—which was not the case here—the appeals court must assume the trial court’s decision was improper.
Have You Been Falsely Accused of Domestic Violence?
It should be noted that in the case above, the appeals court did not find the defendant innocent. Rather, it reinstated a preliminary domestic violence order against him and ordered the trial court to conduct a new hearing. Regardless of this particular defendant’s innocence or guilt, it is important for the courts to protect the due process rights of all parties in order to ensure the domestic violence laws are not misused. That is why, if you believe you have been wrongfully accused of abusing a family or household member and need assistance from an experienced Florida domestic violence defense lawyer, contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today.