Occasionally, this blog discusses the benefits of pursuing your case with an experienced attorney as opposed to “going it alone.” When someone opts to go it alone, they are almost always harming their case. Sometimes, those mistakes cost the litigant money. Other times, though, the stakes are much, much higher, such as in the case of domestic violence injunctions. If find yourself in the position of needing to pursue a protective injunction, or to defend against one, the stakes are about as high as they can be. You may be fearful that you cannot afford to hire an attorney. However, in reality, you cannot afford to go through the process without one. Your helpful South Florida family law attorney may be able to provide you with more solutions or options than you thought available, potentially making the cost more manageable, or even potentially nothing at all.
A recent case is a very clear cautionary tale. T.L., the plaintiff in the case, was the mother of a pre-teen daughter. T.L. and her daughter lived in Miami but, when the girl was 9, she spent a period of time in Palm Beach County with a paternal aunt and uncle due to Hurricane Irma. During that stay, the uncle alleged committed a sexual assault on the girl.
Based on that alleged incident, the mother went to court seeking an injunction for protection against sexual violence. The mother handled the case on her own. At the hearing, the girl did not testify; the mother was the only witness. A portion of the mother’s testimony focused on things that the daughter had told her about the incident.
The trial judge excluded all testimony where the mother relayed things that the daughter allegedly had said because it was not admissible. The rules covering hearsay evidence say that testimony about something somebody else allegedly said is generally inadmissible except in a few special cases. The Third District Court of Appeal explained that the law “constrained” it to throw out the injunction and side with the uncle. The mother’s testimony (minus the hearsay evidence) was, by itself, insufficient proof to warrant issuing a protective injunction. The law requires you, as the person seeking a protective injunction, either to be a direct eyewitness, to put a direct eyewitness on the stand or to provide “direct physical evidence” of the assault. T.L.’s evidence did none of these things.
In these cases, the ‘issues could hardly be more significant’
The court lamented the frequency with which it saw people like this mother trying to obtain protective injunctions without much-needed legal representation. As the court so perfectly put it, the “issues could hardly be more significant—the allegations, proceedings, and results substantially affect the long-term physical and emotional health of the parties and their families.”
In this case, there were only two options. One of those is that there was a girl who was denied a much-needed protective injunction because her case lacked the admissible proof it could have, and should have, had.
Similarly, in a domestic violence case, the stakes are just as high. As an alleged victim, proceeding without an attorney could mean losing in court, even though you have a “good” case, and being denied the protection you so desperately need. You may lose because you didn’t file on time. You might lose because you didn’t have enough evidence. You might lose because your evidence was not presented in a way to make it admissible under the rules.
On a similar level, proceeding without an attorney, if you’re a defendant wrongfully accused of domestic violence, means potentially having your life turned upside-down and greatly harmed by a non-meritorious domestic violence injunction petition, all because you did not get the legal representation you needed to put on the defense that might have resulted in a denial of the injunction.
Whether you are the victim of domestic violence, or someone wrongfully accused of domestic violence, you need the fullest protection that the law and the legal system affords you. Part of doing that means having knowledgeable counsel on your side. The experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are here to help. Our hardworking attorneys have been providing clients with useful advice and thoughtful solutions for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.