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Domestic Violence - Forfeiture by Wrongdoing

This page presents a brief overview of the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing as it applies in domestic violence and other Utah criminal defense cases. The doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing can dramatically affect the strength of a prosecutor's case when there is a witness who may be reluctant to testify or who is persuaded by another not to testify. If you are facing criminal charges in Utah, contact us today to see what the right attorney can do for you.

Utah Criminal Defense Issues - Doctrine of Forfeiture by Wrongdoing

The doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing has been applied by Utah courts in cases where a defendant (or someone acting at the direction of or on behalf of the defendant) has engaged in wrongful conduct that has resulted in the unavailability of a prosecution witness. Courts have applied this doctrine in situations ranging in severity from the actual murder of a witness to the a subtle threat that results in a witness refusing to testify in court. In addition to evidence that the defendant's wrongful conduct has resulted in the unavailability of a witness, the doctrine generally requires evidence that the defendant acted with the intent to make the witness unavailable.

The legal doctrine of "forfeiture by wrongdoing" can serve as an exception to the evidentiary rules generally applicable to hearsay and can function as a waiver of a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against him/her. The theory underlying the doctrine is based on the idea that by engaging in wrongdoing that results in the unavailability of a witness/declarant, the defendant has forfeited the right to confront that witness/declarant at trial. The result often is that prior statements of the unavailable witness/declarant may be admitted at trial even though the statements would otherwise constitute inadmissible hearsay.

The determination as to whether the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing should apply in any particular case is a determination that should be made by the court outside the presence of the jury. Evidence that a witness was killed by the defendant and evidence that a witness is afraid to testify or is choosing to invoke a spousal or other privilege based on threats made by the defendant may be very relevant to the issue of whether the doctrine applies. But that same evidence will often be irrelevant and extremely prejudicial to the defendant in context of the charges that are filed in the main case.

Finding the Right Criminal Defense Attorney

Salt Lake Criminal Defense LawyerIf you are facing prosecution in Utah for a domestic violence offense or other criminal charges, the consequences of a conviction can be serious. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side can be vital. Contact us now to see what the right attorney can do for you.


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  • Drug Crimes Defense Attorney Utah Dismissed - Client facing first-degree felony drug distribution charge and potential life in prison. Charges were based on allegations that client had sold drugs to an undercover police officer, then made a full confession. Successful mitigation work resulted in negotiated offer of misdemeanor plea-in-abeyance and ultimate dismissal of case.
  • Utah Expungement Attorney Expungement - Worked to restore client's expungement eligibility through 402 reduction process, then filed successful expungement petitions in multiple courts obtaining expungement orders and clearing client's official criminal history.
  • Felony Attorney Utah Dismissed - Client facing first-degree felony charge and possible life in prison for child kidnapping. Full defense analysis of the case revealed critical legal flaws in the prosecution's case. When confronted with the defense legal analysis, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the case outright without trial.
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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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