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West Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer / Blog / Criminal Defense / The Williams Rule In Florida Domestic Violence Cases

The Williams Rule In Florida Domestic Violence Cases


If you are charged with a crime, and your case goes to trial, certain things are normally understood as features of U.S. criminal procedure, such as the fact that prosecutors normally are not permitted to offer evidence of the defendant’s character unless the defendant does it first. In many cases, character evidence is not permissible at all. However, in a domestic violence prosecution, there is an exception under Florida law. Known as the Williams rule, it may fundamentally change any defense you might offer at trial.

Admitting Character Evidence

In most trials, character evidence is considered inadmissible, because the accused should be tried on their present conduct, rather than their past actions. For example, if someone is on trial for driving under the influence, any evidence of past DUIs is not admissible, because it does not prove that they drove under the influence on the night in question. However, there are situations where character evidence is permitted because it helps the jury understand the personality of the defendant – such as evidence of past deceitfulness in a defendant who is on trial for embezzlement.

The Williams rule is an exception to the exception, so to speak – in cases involving domestic violence, it allows prosecutors to bring up evidence of “other crimes, wrongs, or acts” committed by the defendant if it is relevant to some issue in the case other than the likelihood of the defendant committing the crime. Some of the purposes that Williams rule evidence can go toward include intent, opportunity, preparation, motive, or identity, among others – in other words, if you have committed acts in your past that might provide a plausible reason or method toward any component of the crime you are now accused of, that evidence will be admissible.

Plan Ahead If Possible

If you have been charged with domestic violence and the prosecution intends to use Williams rule evidence to help establish their case, be advised that they must submit notice of their intent to the defense before trial begins. Your attorney may be able to have the evidence excluded, depending on its specific nature, but they may not be able to stop it. However, even if the evidence does make it into the trial record, it must meet specific fairness criteria – namely, the judge must be able to agree that the relevance of the evidence outweighs the possibility of unfair prejudice against you, the defendant.

Williams rule evidence can be quite persuasive if used correctly, given that it can be used both to establish the State Attorney’s case and to argue against any affirmative defenses you might offer (for example, if you allege entrapment, the prosecution can present Williams rule evidence to establish that you might have had the propensity to commit the crime). However, if you have a quality attorney on your side, all is not lost; you have options in terms of protecting your rights and ensuring your side of the story is told.

Call A West Palm Beach Domestic Violence Attorney

Domestic violence is a serious charge to face, especially if you have a history of these incidents. With certain types of character evidence admissible at trial, telling your side of the story may feel impossible. The West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at Perlet, Shiner, Melchiorre & Walsh, P.A. understand that you are entitled to your day in court, and will protect your rights. Call our offices today to speak to an attorney.

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