If you are the defendant in a criminal case that involves an alleged victim, that victim typically plays a critical role in the State’s case against you. Not all victims make it easy for the State, however, to prosecute the case. For example, a Murfreesboro criminal defense lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains what happens when a victim recants or refuses to cooperate in a criminal prosecution.
The Role of a Victim
Although an argument can be made that all crimes include a victim in one way or another, some crimes have a clear and obviously identifiable victim, such as domestic abuse, robbery, embezzlement, or assault and battery. In these crimes, the State typically depends on the victim to testify, if need be, at trial because the victim usually plays a role in proving one of the elements of the offense. For instance, Tennessee Code Section 39-14-103 defines the criminal offense of theft of property as “A person commits theft of property if, with intent to deprive the owner of property, the person knowingly obtains or exercises control over the property without the owner’s effective consent.” The owner of the property in question, therefore, is the alleged victim. Because the State must prove every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction against the defendant, an alleged victim plays a crucial role in the State’s case.
When the Victim Recants or Refuses to Cooperate
One of the most unpredictable elements of many criminal prosecutions is an alleged victim because the prosecutor does not know if he/she will be cooperative. Sometimes, an alleged victim recants his/her statement or refuses to cooperate at all with the prosecution. These are not the same thing, though they often have the same impact on the case. When a victim recants, it means that he/she repudiates or changes the original statement given to the police. For example, if the alleged victim originally identified the defendant as the perpetrator but now says that the defendant was not the perpetrator, that is an example of recanting. A victim may also simply refuse to cooperate with the prosecution. This often occurs in a domestic violence case when the defendant and alleged victim have “made up” and the alleged victim no longer wants the defendant to get in trouble. In this case, the alleged victim refuses to speak to the police or prosecutor at all.
What Can the Prosecution Do If the Victim Is Uncooperative?
If an alleged victim is recanting or refusing to cooperate, the prosecuting attorney must decide how to proceed. The prosecuting attorney does have the power to subpoena the individual and force him/her to testify at trial; however, that can be a risky option for the State. Once on the stand, the individual will be placed under oath and informed of the penalties for perjury. In theory, this should prompt the witness to answer honestly, but there are no guarantees. Moreover, no one but the alleged victim really knows what the truth is. If the individual tells a different story than the story originally given to the police, he/she will appear unreliable at best. With two versions of the story, a jury will unlikely find that the State has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the alleged victim appears uncooperative, the prosecuting attorney can have him/declared a “hostile witness” which then gives the prosecutor more leeway in questioning the witness; however, there is still no guarantee that individual will testify as the prosecution needs him/her to in order to secure a conviction.
Given the likely outcome when an alleged victim recants or refuses to cooperate, the State is often forced to dismiss the charges unless the case is strong enough to be won without the alleged victim’s testimony. That only happens if there is sufficient physical evidence and/or eyewitness testimony to overcome the absence of the alleged victim’s testimony.
Contact a Murfreesboro Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you were recently charged with a criminal offense involving an alleged victim, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro criminal defense lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.