Sam and I just wrapped up an attempted murder trial with a Not Guilty on all counts. Over the next couple blog posts I will be discussing various issues that came up throughout the litigation and the strategies that we used in order to put ourselves in the best position at trial. As always, any and all identifying information (names, dates, locations, etc.) will be altered to protect the identity of our clients.
The defendant in this case was indicted on one count of attempted murder by strangulation and two counts of assault and battery. During the Grand Jury proceedings, there were 4 witnesses who testified for the Commonwealth: a detective; a nurse; a doctor, and the Complainant aka “the victim.” Here is a summary of the testimony:
The detective testified that the victim came to the police station at about 5pm some day in April 2014. The victim reported that the previous night her husband had grabbed her with both hands around the neck, and held her in a strangulation hold for a few seconds before letting go. She stated that he did assert some pressure on her neck but that it did not hurt or stop her breathing. She then reported that almost a year ago, he had done the same thing but that he asserted enough pressure where she lost consciousness. She then told him that after she regained consciousness the defendant drove her to the hospital, where she reported the incident to a nurse. The detective further testified that throughout the interview the victim seemed very nervous, tense and upset.
The nurse testified that sometime in March 2013, the victim arrived at the hospital with her husband. She brought the victim alone to the examination room and left her husband in the lobby. She described the victim as trembling, not speaking, withdrawn and looking at the floor. She also observed a five inch tear down the shoulder of an otherwise new looking shirt. Once she began taking vital signs the victim began to cry and said her throat hurt. When she asked the victim why she was crying, the victim said her husband choked her.
The doctor testified that she interacted with the victim after the nurse. She made the same observations, as the nurse, however the victim would not relate in any detail concerning her injuries, only saying, “I can’t say.” She described the victim’s demeanor as tearful and trembling.
Medical records of the victim were also introduced which corroborated the nurse’s and doctor’s testimony.
The victim appeared before the Grand Jury with her own attorney and recanted all of the allegations she made against her husband. She described the declining state of her marriage and said they were getting into a lot of verbal fights. She stated that she lied to the police officer because she just wanted her husband out of the house. She admits that she went to the hospital but that it was because of an undiagnosed condition. She stated that when she is experiencing high amounts of stress her throat starts to close up when she yells. She reiterated the fact that her husband never physically assaulted her in anyway.
Despite the victim’s recantation of her story, the Grand Jury still decided to indict the defendant for attempted murder and assault and battery.
For anyone who does not have much experience in the criminal justice system, this story may sound like something out of an episode of Law and Order. Having a witness and/or victim change her story is common practice in domestic violence cases. In my next post I will begin talking about the arraignment and how a victim’s recantation of abuse allegations will not always stop the prosecution from pushing for a conviction.