As an Aggressive Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney, I have represented hundreds of people over the last 15 years who were charged with domestic violence assaults. Before that, I prosecuted hundreds more as an Assistant State’s Attorney. These cases are among the most difficult cases criminal defense lawyershandle because prosecutors are under tremendous pressure to prosecute these cases aggressively. There is simply no quicker way for a prosecutor to find him or herself out of a job than failing to prosecute one of cases only to have the defendant assault the victim again.
For this reason, even seemingly minor cases resulting in little or no injury are often prioritized by Assistant State’s Attorneys for aggressive prosecution. I had a case falling into this category last week in the District Court in Baltimore County. Here are the facts:
My client was estranged from his wife of only one year when the alleged incident occurred. My client and his wife had shared a house when they were together but my client had moved in with his father when they separated but he left some of his possession in the marital home including a big screen television. On the date of the incident, he returned to the home with his father to retrieve the TV. When he arrived he knocked on the door and his estranged wife let him in. He and his father advised her why they were there at which point she told him that she wasn’t going to let him take the TV. He advised her that he purchased the TV prior to the marriage and that it was therefore obviously his and that he wasn’t leaving without it.
She repeatedly blocked his way as they were removing the TV and generally harassed him but ultimately they were able to remove the TV and be on their way. According to my client as well as his father, there had been no physical contact between the two whatsoever. A few days later, the police arrived at his home and arrested him for second degree assault. In the statement of probable cause filled out by his estranged wife, she claimed that he had shoved her hard into a door causing pain and red marks on her back. The responding police officer wrote in her report that she was able to see redness but it was not dark enough to come out in photographs so none were taken.
When we arrived in court last week the prosecutor advised me that although she didn’t think my client deserved to go to jail, she did believe that he had shoved her and intended to prosecute the case. She offered a recommendation of probation in exchange for a plea of guilty along with domestic violence counseling. I told her that my client would not plead guilty as he hadn’t done anything and I had his father to corroborate his version. I also advised her that believed that even if he were to be convicted after a trial, that it was highly unlikely that the judge would incarcerate him. In other words, I believed probation was his worst case scenario so he had no incentive to plead guilty.
As it turned out I really didn’t need my client’s father as a witness because the alleged victim contradicted herself twice on crucial points during cross examination. First, she claimed in her testimony on direct examination by the prosecutor that my client had shoved the door into her causing the red marks. I confronted her on cross examination pointing out that she had written in the Statement of Probable Cause that he had shoved her into the door, not the door into her as she now claimed. She acknowledged the contradiction but could offer no explanation other than it “happened really fast” and that she wasn’t now sure which way it occurred.
Second, she claimed in her direct testimony that she was certain that my client’s father was not in a position to see the assault as he was upstairs when it occurred. She was quite adamant about this point which I found curious as she had not made it in her Statement of Probable Cause. In that document, which, I pointed out is executed under oath, she stated that both my client and his father were present when the alleged assault ocurred. I confronted her with this contradiction on cross and she again had no reasonable explanation to reconcile the two versions of the story.
Ultimately, my client and his father testified consistently about the incident and were both definitive that there had been no assault or even any physical contact between the two. In his ruling the judge noted the inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s two versions of the events and concluded that the inconsistencies alone would have prevented him from finding beyond a reasonable doubt that my client had assaulted her. Coupled with my client’s and his father’s testimony, it really wasn’t even close.