Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tapes of Mel Gibson Prove Domestic Violence is Everywhere. But Are They Admissible in Court?

In a tape released Monday, actor Mel Gibson acknowledges an incident in which he hit former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva twice while she held their baby daughter. In his verbally abusive tirade, Gibson not only admits to the incident, he tells Grigorieva that she deserved it. The legal admissibility of the tape is dubious, because in California, "both parties must consent to have a phone conversation recorded," according to the LA Times. But it may still be admissible in court, the Times adds, because some legal exceptions are made for victims of violence.

While it is important for victims of domestic violence to collect evidence against their abuser, each state has its own laws about what evidence you can use in court. And while aggressive, harassing phone calls are a form of domestic abuse, in most states it is considered a misdemeanor or felony to tape a phone conversation without the consent of the other party. In California, for instance, both parties must be aware that they are being taped, otherwise recording a conversation carries the same penalty as intercepting telephone or wire communications. So it has yet to be seen whether the tapes made by Grigorieva, however damning, will be admissible in court. And she may face penalties for making the tapes. (For state-by-state information on taping phone calls and conversations, go to:

And it is important to remember that there are other ways to build a strong domestic violence case in court. In most states, evidence can include:
• Testimony in court (from you or your witnesses)
• Medical reports of injuries from the abuse
• Police reports for when you or a witness called the police
• Pictures of your injuries (better if they are dated)
• Household objects torn or broken by the abuser
• Pictures of your household in disarray after an episode of domestic violence
• Weapons used
• Tapes of calls you may have made to 911
• Certified copies of the abuser’s criminal record (try to get these through the clerk of criminal court)
• A personal diary or calendar in which you documented the abuse as it happened
• Anything else that might help convince the judge.

The significance of this case for victims of domestic violence goes above and beyond the legal validity of the leaked tape, however. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, "nearly 5.3 million incidents of domestic violence occur each year among U.S. women ages 18 and older." Most of those incidents lack the high profile luster of a Mel Gibson or a Chris Brown, but they have the same destructive impact on individual lives and families around the country. The leaked tapes of Gibson may or may not ultimately be the evidence used to convict Gibson, but they certainly have shed a spotlight on domestic violence - which can only strengthen the fight against it.

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