How to Handle a Recanting Witness

How to Handle a Recanting Witness
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Resources
Recorded on: 2019-05-08
Unit 1 Slide Deck: How to Handle a Recanting Witness
Unit 2 Workbook: How to Handle a Recanting Witness
Unit 3 Recording: How to Handle a Recanting Witness

As if building, handling and prosecuting cases aren’t a challenge by itself already, sometimes, we are faced with a recanting victim. This is especially common in domestic violence cases – from wanting to pursue legal steps against the defender, they’ll suddenly change their mind and take back everything.

To talk about this tricky part of prosecution are two of Maricopa County’s key experts when it comes to prosecution. Hilary Weinberg is the Bureau Chief of Family Violence and has been with the Attorney’s Office for 2 decades. Meanwhile, Donielle Wright is the Deputy County Attorney for Maricopa County’s Attorney’s Office Special Victims Division where she handles cases like child abuse, assault, harassment, and homicide.

Hilary and Donielle tag teams on this very specific topic of recanting victims and witnesses going through techniques and tips on how to handle them. The discussion revolved around:

  • The concept of evidence-based prosecution which focuses on the available evidence regardless of the victim’s willingness to testify or participate in the proceedings.
  • Evaluating the case based on the evidence available which would determine if a prosecution can be made even in the victim’s absence or reluctance to cooperate.
  • Developing a strategy for the case with the expectation that:
    • The victim will not show up or will recant previous statements.
    • Even cooperative victims have a tendency to recant their statements once in the stand.
    • Prosecutors will work closely with detectives to ensure evidence is sufficient to corroborate the charge.
  • Domestic violence victims’ reasons for recanting based on an ongoing relationship with their abuser where the victim is often financially dependent on the offender, being made to believe promises and manipulations, and wants to keep the family intact for the kids, among others.
  • Techniques to employ when communicating with a domestic violence victim that takes into account the possibility of recantation.
  • Understanding the cycle of violence that transpires in domestically violent homes or relationships.
  • The different pieces of evidence that may be utilized to prove a case:
    • Documentation, files and other digital evidence such as the 911 recording, medical records, photos of the injury, jail calls, social media posts, and text conversations.
    • Statements from the witnesses and victims to personnel encountered as police officers, medical professionals, and other emergency responders.
  • The procedure to obtain 911 calls and the requirements to admit these as evidence.
  • Differentiating between testimonial and non-testimonial statements made by victim or witnesses.
  • Utilizing jail call recordings and visits to reveal information on whom the defendant is contacting, what is being communicated and using these details in prosecution.
  • Employing Forfeiture by Wrongdoing to get out-of-court statements from the victim who is prevented to testify or made unavailable by the defendant.
  • The Undertaking of a Witness as a last resort to avoid manipulation and ensure that a victim/witness will be able to testify.
  • The prosecution’s duty to educate the judge and jury on the intricacies of domestic violence including victim behavior and the cycle of violence.
  • Prosecution’s ethical obligation to disclose to the defense whenever a victim decides to recant, changes or minimizes the story.
  • Questions raised by the course attendees during Q&A are on:
    • Working with HIPAA to obtain medical records for DV cases.
    • The possibility of having children as witnesses.
    • Medical personnel’s legal obligation to report DV cases.
    • How the victims’ presence impacts case success.
    • Protecting victims from intimidation from the defender whilst inside the courtroom.
    • Declaring a witness who recants as a hostile witness.
    • Line of questioning for a recanting victim or witness on the stand.


Audience Comments: 

  • “Great topic. Looking at all the things that can be done, and preparing the case as if the victim is going to recant was a great way to look at it.” –Brittany
  • “I didn’t really know anything about the topic–other that watching TV dramas–so it was all new, interesting information. I appreciated the down-to-earth style of the presenters. It was obvious they cared about the victims & the complex situations–they weren’t just box-tickers. They’ve got a tough job. Thank you!” – L
  • “Really helpful info that can be somewhat applied to disciplinary/admin processes used at IHEs. Would be really helpful to develop webinar for police and detectives on how to work first responses and investigations without cooperative victims.” –Marlene
  • “The presenters gave not only valuable information but also clear and vivid examples that really helped to understand these situations. It was also comforting to see all the ways they knew to handle what seems to be a drastic step for a witness to recant.” –Catherine
  • “Webinar very valuable in working with Clients in Domestic Violence cases as well as others.” –Madera
Additional Resources
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After the Webinar: How to Handle Recanting Witnesses. Q&A with the Presenters
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