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Domestic violence: a charge is not a conviction

A charge is not the same as a conviction. This simple statement can be easy to overlook, especially in cases of serious charges and close public scrutiny. But one of the most basic premises of the criminal justice system is that authorities must offer evidence, not merely innuendo.

In New Jersey and across the nation, that is why some defendants choose to go all the way to trial. If there isn't valid evidence to prove a charge, trial provides an opportunity for a defendant to contest the charges.

In domestic violence cases, in particular, there are times when a charge may result from an accusation by an intimate partner that based more in emotion than in fact.

In a recent case in suburban New York, the former major of White Plains was last week of domestic violence charges. The man had been accused of harassing his wife and trying to assault her. She claimed that he deliberately slammed a door to injure her fingers and tried to scald her with hot tea.

The wife testified to these allegations at the man's first trial. He was convicted of harassment and attempted assault in a nonjury trial and sentenced to three years of probation. He also resigned his office as a mayor because of the distraction his case was causing the city.

All along, however, he continued to maintain his innocence. And last year, an appeals court struck down the convictions. The appeals court found that the trial judge had erred in not allowing testimony from witnesses who could have undercut the testimony of the man's wife.

At the retrial, a jury found the man not guilty. When all was said and done, the charges had not yielded a valid conviction.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, " NY ex-mayor acquitted of domestic violence charges," June 21, 2013

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