As Chris Brown reports to a Los Angeles court today for his alleged assault on girlfriend and pop princess Rihanna, many await with baited breath for the final outcome. Since the couple allegedly kissed and made up this past weekend inquiring minds want to know: Will Chris Brown plead guilty or not guilty? Will Rihanna testify for or against him? ESSENCE.com had Asuncion “Sunny” Hostin, a lawyer, former prosecutor for domestic violence and legal expert for CNN and FOX News, weigh in on Brown’s options, the patterns of victims of abuse and why she doubts there will be a trail.
ESSENCE.COM: Today Chris Brown reports to court regarding allegations for felony domestic violence battery, but with rumors that he and Rihanna have reunited can he still go to trial?
ASUNCION “SUNNY” HOSTIN: Chris Brown can certainly go to trial without his testimony. When I prosecuted domestic violence cases, I used to do it. In this case, the prosecutor can move forward with the photograph [obtained by TMZ.com] that was released, Rihanna’s 911 call to police, the interview she gave to police the night of the incident, and any statements he might have given to the police, but if he was advised properly he probably didn’t say anything. These are all the things that the government can piece together to try these kind of cases.
ESSENCE.COM: Hypothetically, if Chris Brown goes to trial, how strong is the case without Rihanna’s testimony?
HOSTIN: A common misunderstanding that people have is that they think it’s the victim who brings the perpetrator to trial, but it’s the government (prosecutor) and the grand jury (the people) who indict. Again, when a victim recants and doesn’t want to testify, prosecutors struggle with, not what happened, because you usually have the facts, but what can you prove happened without testimony.
ESSENCE.COM: Is it common for domestic violence victims to have a sudden change of heart and defend their abusers?
HOSTIN: Typically, the victim doesn’t want to testify against the perpetrator. It’s a pattern I witnessed over and over again when I prosecuted many domestic violence cases while working for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. I often tried my cases without the cooperation of the victim, who would often end up testifying on her perpetrator’s behalf. It’s not uncommon and often experts will be brought in to testify about the victim’s [psychological state] and feelings of guilt, fear and overwhelming love for their abuser. So many are asking, How could she go back to him? In my experience, many men convince the women it’s their faults and that they pushed their buttons. Now the victim is back with her abuser and the prosecutor’s challenge again is to prove a domestic violence case with a victim who’s istill n love with her abuser.
ESSENCE.COM: What poses the biggest threat to losing a domestic violence case?
HOSTIN: The problem comes when the victim recants and says something like, “I hit him first and he hit me in self-defense.” Then the jury believes there’s no victim here so why should we to put this person in jail. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve tried cases and the victim showed up with the perpetrator and asked me to speak to her lawyer, who also happened to be her abuser’s defense lawyer. Again, it’s very common. In regards to Rihanna and Chris Brown, the other problem is his celebrity. He has never been charged or convicted of any crime (even in this incident; he was arrested but never charged); he’s charming and a great entertainer, and many jurors would not convict him. It would be odd to, again given their celebrity, and the strong possibility that she is no longer cooperating, because they have reunited and he has no criminal record. So I doubt that there will be a trial.
Asuncion “Sunny” Hostin is a lawyer, former federal prosecutor and legal analyst for CNN and FOX News.