2007 Archive

Domestic Violence Practicum Shares Win in California Supreme Court Decision

Several weeks before Dwayne Giles shot and killed Brenda Avie, the couple had a violent fight, and Avie told police who responded to the scene that Giles had flashed a knife and threatened to kill her. At Giles' trial for Avie's murder on September 29, 2002, the court admitted into evidence the victim's statements to police, and Giles was convicted of first-degree murder.

Giles, who admitted to the killing but said he acted in self defense, argued that Avie's statements were hearsay and could not be considered as evidence because Giles was unable to confront and cross-examine her at trial about the prior incident of domestic violence. Of course, by killing Avie, Giles himself had made it impossible for Avie to appear in court.

On March 5—in a victory for members of Boalt's Domestic Violence Practicum, who filed an amicus curiae brief in the matter—the California Supreme Court concluded that Giles gave up his right to confront his ex-girlfriend when he killed her.

"The case is important in that it establishes clearly and for the first time in California law that if a victim or witness is unavailable at trial because the defendant procured his or her absence, the defendant forfeits [the] right to object to the admission of early testimonial statements made by the victim and relevant to the crime charged," said Nancy K.D. Lemon, a leading authority on domestic violence and director of Boalt's Domestic Violence Practicum.

Lemon noted that California's high court further held that the prosecution did not have show Giles expressly meant or intended to silence the victim and keep her from testifying, a holding the Domestic Violence Practicum argued for specifically in its brief.

Timna A. Sites '06, a former student in the Domestic Violence Practicum and now an attorney in the Alaska Attorney General's office, helped write the amicus brief.

Read the California Supreme Court opinion.