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New law will allow some hearsay evidence in family violence cases

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Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 4:13 pm, Fri Aug 2, 2013.

BELTON — A new Texas law has its sights set on abusers who intimidate their victims into refusing to cooperate with police.

Stakeholders in family violence law learned about the new legislation, which will allow some hearsay evidence to be presented in family violence cases if prosecutors can prove a victim refused to provide evidence after the offense because of intimidation from the defendant.

Texas Council on Family Violence Policy Director Aaron Setliff said the widely supported law was similar to forfeiture statutes for the seizure of assets of defendants accused of making money from their crimes, such as drug dealers.

But in this case, the ill-begotten benefits for abusers are the lack of testimony from victims or other witnesses, Setliff said.

“I’m relieved that this is codified now,” said Assistant Bell County District Attorney Anne Jackson. “It was a mechanism we were trying to use. It is a relief to me we now have some structure.”

Victims refusing to cooperate with prosecutors and law enforcement is one of the biggest challenges in prosecuting domestic violence crimes. The new law will not eliminate the problem, as lawyers will continue to have a burden of proof that the defendant has threatened the victim.

But it will allow investigators to gather evidence such as threatening Facebook messages, emails or text messages that may indicate a threat was made.

Setliff said legislators doubled the funding to intervention programs and increased appropriation to the Texas Health and Human Services System that provides “safety valve” programs for the abused by $2.5 million.

“It is a great benefit, and we are very excited about that,” Setliff said.

The legislature also created a felony offense for offenders who continually violate protective orders and made prosecuting stalkers easier.

Setliff gave his presentation to the Central Texas Family Violence Task Force, a group of law enforcement, health care providers, prosecutors and other agency leaders who deal with family violence.

The group organizes an annual conference that focuses on family violence issues. This year’s conference “Bridging the Gap, a Multi-Disciplinary Approach,” will be Oct. 17 - 18 at the Harker Heights Activities Center.

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