Self-defense under Texas law states: “A person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the others use or attempted use of unlawful force.”
The jury determines what is “reasonable” based on the testimony and physical evidence. This creates more complication and is therefore less straightforward as most evidence within a family violence case is based on he-said, she-said.
Family law cases create a unique environment because most of the evidence is hearsay from both sides mixed with neutral witnesses. This lawful process creates opportunity for a strong defense as the prosecution must prove reasonable doubt based on verbal recounts. In turn, the environment creates challenges for the prosecution to eliminate all doubt based on the truthfulness perceived from biased and neutral witnesses.
Victims who play chief witnesses in the case present challenges for the prosecution. If they are cooperating, their testimony can be easily thrown out based on victim motive. Naturally, there are many circumstances that can cause strong emotion on both sides. Evidence in a criminal trial can be used additionally as evidence in the impending civil cases when deciding custody and other financial domestic outcomes. Often, living situation plays a chief role in the validation of the victim’s testimony. If any sense of vengeful motive is detected within testimony, statements can quickly be thrown out. Jury is well prefaced with this information prior to trial. Have they recent moved out? How long have they co-habited? Do they have impending divorce, separation, or custody cases?
Unique to family violence cases, previous misdemeanor convictions can serve as validation to increase judgment to felony charges. In other misdemeanor cases, previous convictions rarely can be admitted based on “you did it then, you’ve done it now” or “you did it then, therefore, it’s more likely you’ve done it now.” However, family violence case prosecution must introduce this information in order to boost the offense from misdemeanor to felony.
Also unique to family violence cases is the relationship between both parties. In the eyes of the juror, both sides could be at fault for the deterioration of the relationship and the cause for the incident. In other violent crimes, the offender and victim are more clearly defined. When plaintiff and defendant are on somewhat level playing fields, the jurors take more into account the character of the individuals. Who seems more credible based on the information presented and the way the information was presented? Hearsay testimony from both sides and neutral parties create strong reasonable doubt.
Family violence cases in Texas provide the opportunity for both sides to explain their side of the story. In the eyes of a juror, the testimony of the defendant is often the more logical whereas the testimony of the victim more emotional. Hearing the defendant side of the story can often create a logical and reasonable doubt among jurors.
Those who testify must maintain composure during rigorous cross examination. Testifying carries risks. These risks are thoroughly expressed to both sides before they take the stand. Aggressive lines of questioning lead many to lose their cool. Jurors sense aggression and will connect aggressive behavior in the court room to habitual aggressive behavior outside the courtroom. However, calm and rational responses from defendants will create a rapport with jurors and helps create reasonable doubt. Emotional outbursts certainly lead to conviction. The goal of the defendant is to turn the table and make the cross examiner seem like the aggressor.