By: Mark Diaz
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In What Circumstances Can the State Prosecute Without a Victim?
Even if you do not have a background in law, you know that evidence plays a crucial role in the prosecution of a Texas criminal case. The prosecution needs it to obtain a conviction; Galveston County criminal defense lawyers require it to fight the charges. Evidence is so important that there are hundreds of provisions covering it in the Texas Rules of Evidence, but two, in particular, are fundamental to criminal law:
- Only relevant evidence is admissible.
- Evidence is only relevant if it tends to make a fact that is of consequence to the case more or less probable than without it.
Together, these rules open the door to an almost infinite cache of information that the parties can use to prevail over the other side. As you can probably guess, testimony is central to getting this evidence into the courtroom. The prosecutor and defense counsel conduct examinations and cross-examination to achieve this goal. The answers to their questions become part of the record and what the jury will consider during deliberations.
Therefore, it can be confusing to understand what happens when the victim of a crime does not or cannot participate. When you are in the position of the defendant, you might assume that the charges will be dropped and your case dismissed without input from this individual. A Galveston County defense attorney can explain the details on why this misconception is not true. The government can most certainly proceed with charges, usually based upon other evidence. An overview may also help you understand the circumstances under which the state can prosecute without a victim.
Table of Contents
Roles in a Texas Criminal Case
You can better understand how victims of crime impact evidence issues when you know the different players involved with a case at various stages of the criminal process:
- Plaintiff: The government will always be in the position of the plaintiff in a criminal case since it is the party taking action to enforce its laws. In Texas, the plaintiff might be the state, county, or municipal government; however, the US government is the plaintiff for federal cases.
- Prosecuting Attorney: As a party to a criminal case, the government has legal representation through the prosecution. The prosecutor’s office is staffed by lawyers whose job is to secure a conviction on behalf of the client.
- Defendant: If you have been arrested, you are the defendant in a criminal case. Alternatively, you could be facing charges because of an indictment handed down by a grand jury.
- Criminal Defense Lawyer: Your right to defense counsel is guaranteed by the US Constitution and Texas Constitution, so your attorney will play one of the most important roles from your perspective. You are entitled to have a lawyer represent you throughout the criminal process, and it is crucial to get legal help early on.
How Witnesses Play a Role
It is this category of players that triggers the involvement of the victim in a criminal case. From the above, you can see that there are just two parties, though they may be represented by counsel. However, a witness is NOT a party. A witness acts as a source of evidence. Even when that person was the victim of the crime, he or she does not become a party to the case. In fact, the victim occupies the same position as a police officer who made an arrest after observing the criminal activity.
Still, as a witness, the victim most likely has a wealth of evidence to provide to police and the prosecution. That person might offer proof through testimony and may be in possession of physical, tangible items related to the crime. With such a critical role, there can be significant challenges with proving the case.
Overview of the Prosecution’s Burden of Proof
As the plaintiff, the government’s lawyer will be required to establish certain facts to get a conviction. The principles of constitutional law mandate that the prosecutor prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, such that even an iota of uncertainty could lead to a dismissal of the charges. The two fundamental concepts behind a crime are:
- Actus reus, i.e., the bad act or violation of the law.
- Mens rea, i.e., the intent to commit a crime.
From these two points, the more specific elements of a criminal offense are derived. If you take a closer look at the statutory language of Texas criminal laws, you can see the details the prosecuting attorney must prove, such as:
- The defendant acted intentionally, purposefully, recklessly, and/or knowingly.
- A certain dollar value, particularly with theft, fraud, and related charges.
- The severity of the harm to the victim.
- In drug cases, the amount of weight and Schedule of a controlled substance.
- The location of the criminal offense, such as a home, business, vehicle, or public place.
- Your blood alcohol content (BAC) in a drunk driving case.
Cases Where a Victim is Unnecessary
Whereas the prosecution and defense are parties who must be involved with the criminal process, the victim may be unable or unwilling to participate. By reviewing some of the crimes where a victim’s participation as a witness is not necessary, you can see how other evidence may fill in the gaps:
Murder: It is obvious that the victim of a murder or manslaughter will not be testifying, but that does not prevent a prosecutor from pursuing charges. Even when there is no physical body, Texas officials get plenty of convictions based upon:
- Hair, blood, and fingerprints.
- Blood splatter.
- Gunshot residue.
- Other trace evidence.
Assault Offenses: Intent is a key element for many assault crimes, and proving your state of mind does not require input from a victim at all. Some of the most powerful evidence of assault may be photos of the victim’s injuries, as well as testimony from other witnesses who observed the altercation.
White Collar Crimes: With many types of fraud and white-collar crimes, a defendant may not know or come into physical contact with the victim. In identity theft cases, that person does not even realize a crime has been committed until after the offense is complete. A prosecutor still has a plethora of information to prove a white-collar crime through computer and forensic evidence.
Burglary: The crime of burglary is defined as entering or remaining in a place with the intent to commit a crime while inside, either without the consent of the owner or after consent has been withdrawn. The physical damage to a home or other structure may be enough to show breaking and entering.
Theft Offenses: The key elements of many theft crimes are:
- Misappropriation of items of value.
- With the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of the value of the property.
The victim from whom the items were stolen may not be necessary to establish either of these factors. Footage from security cameras is sufficient to prove shoplifting without testimony from the victim, i.e., the store owner.
Strategies Related to Evidence and Your Defense
When a victim is unable or unwilling to testify, there can be challenges for the prosecution, which also provide opportunities for Galveston County criminal defense lawyers. A prosecutor might be relying on evidence that is inadmissible or carries other defects, and the government cannot resolve these challenges without a victim. For instance:
- Evidence obtained in violation of your civil rights is inadmissible in court. Without the victim’s participation, this information may be the only proof the prosecution can use. However, if police conduct an unlawful search and seizure or interrogate you before reading your rights, this evidence must be excluded as well.
- When the government is forced to prosecute without a victim, the only evidence that might be available is hearsay. For most purposes, statements made outside of court by someone other than the declarant are not admissible as proof of the facts contained within them. The words of another individual cannot be used as evidence of what the victim intended to say.
However, there are numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule that might allow someone else to testify on what the victim was expressing. Therefore, hearsay can operate to stand in the place of the victim.
- Regardless of input from a victim, evidence may be inadmissible by statute or law. It may also be excluded when it tends to cause confusion or unfair prejudice.
Consult with Our Galveston County Criminal Defense Lawyers About Your Case
It might seem unusual that Texas can still prosecute you without a victim, but the prosecution may certainly have problems meeting the burden of proof when deprived of that person’s testimony. Under such circumstances, you may be able to leverage this lack of evidence to beat the charges or obtain another positive outcome.
You will need solid legal representation to achieve this objective, so please call Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz at (409) 515-6170 to set up a case evaluation.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm Located in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood. in a wide range of criminal matters, so our Galveston County criminal defense lawyers are prepared to fight for your rights.