Michigan is considering laws and evidentiary changes that could have a significant impact on how domestic violence cases unfold, the Detroit News reports. The Michigan Supreme Court is considering a change that would give prosecutors more leeway to present other acts of violence in domestic abuse cases. It will accept public comment until November. At the same time, the Michigan Senate is considering a bill that would allow hearsay in domestic violence trials, such as testimony from police officers, family members and other witnesses.
Prosecutors may now introduce a suspect’s past acts or crimes only if they show motive or planning but not if they are intended to indicate a violent or abusive personality or character. Interpretations of what can be admitted vary widely depending on the judge and situation. Criminal defense attorneys oppose the proposed changes. They say the judge or jury is supposed to be looking at a single crime, not what occurred in the past.
The proposed changes stem from a 2001 report of the Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Task Force convened by former Gov. John Engler. Many of the group’s recommendations have been passed into law, such as expanding domestic violence definitions to include those in a dating relationship, recognizing protection orders women get from other states, and creating teams to review domestic violence fatalities.
Prosecutors say that in trials without a victim testifying, abusers tend to minimize incidents or say they were accidents, which is why they want to be able to present other acts of violence and call on witnesses such as friends or police to testify about the abuse. “Most cases that are prosecuted are not the first incident of violence between the offender and the victim,” said Ann Arbor attorney Jim Fink, chair of the state’s Task Force on Domestic Violence.
Criminal defense attorney Marshall Tauber says that sometimes individuals make accusations against each other that aren’t rooted in a pattern of domestic violence but in other problems of a relationship. “If every accusation is brought up as evidence of some pattern, we’re on dangerous ground,” he said.