Who Can Testify in a Domestic Violence Case?
You may have heard that a wife can not testify against her husband. But if the spouse doesn’t testify when one partner abuses the other, then who will? A recent Court of Appeals decision answered the question without a doubt.
The husband in the case brought a rifle to the home of his estranged wife. Another man, Michael, was there. The husband shot Michael in the arm, but luckily the wife was not injured. At the preliminary examination, the husband’s attorney claimed that the wife wanted to assert her spousal privilege not to testify against her husband. The testimony occurred anyway.
Michigan has a spousal privilege statute, created in 2000, that allows a witness to refuse to testify against his or her spouse in a criminal prosecution. But the law does not apply:
In a cause of action that grows out of a personal wrong or injury done by one to the other or that grows out of the refusal or neglect to furnish the spouse or children with suitable support.
This is a change from the previous statute, which gave the power to exclude testimony to the defendant spouse, rather than the witness. The exception for spouse-victims shifted the decision to the witness. Under the new statute, the court ruled that the witness’s power to opt out of testifying ends when the spouse is the victim. At that point, the public has a right to every man’s evidence, so the witness can be required to testify against his or her wishes.
A lot of domestic violence cases rise and fall based on the testimony of the spouse. Prosecutors have long been able to continue the case even when the spouse decides she does not want to prosecute. This new case gives the prosecutors another tool to use in overcoming a reluctant wife’s hesitancy. If you are facing domestic violence charges, call Attorney Peter J. Johnson at 269-982-1100 for a consultation.
*Please note:Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.