Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Battered Woman Syndrome-Real or Not

What does self-defense mean to you?

To me it's a pretty simple concept. Someone is threatening your life, the lives of those you love or of innocent bystanders and the only way to end that threat is to use deadly force against the person or persons making that threat. This means that either you can't leave, you are under no reasonable obligation to leave (i.e. you're in your home or your car) and the threat is imminent or immediate.

This last to me is pretty important. It's not really self-defense in a legal or moral sense of the term in my non-lawyerly mind if someone threatens you on Monday and on Saturday you see them and shoot them in the back while they're unarmed. Now of course they may have deserved it but that's not really self-defense. Or is it?

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York jury cleared a woman who shot dead her retired police officer husband of murder on Thursday in a case that had been seen as a test of the battered-woman defense.
Barbara Sheehan, 50, was acquitted of second-degree murder after three days of deliberations by the jury in state Supreme Court in Queens but was found guilty of a lesser charge of gun possession.
Sheehan's lawyers successfully argued that she fired only after her husband threatened to kill her, and Sheehan and her grown children had testified about the violent household ruled by Raymond Sheehan, 49, a former New York City Police sergeant. Both the prosecution and defense said the beatings and bruises came to an end on February 18, 2008, when Sheehan shot her husband 11 times in their Queens home.
Legal experts said the case was a test of the battered-woman defense, in which the history of abuse is explored to explain a woman's mental state at the time she is accused of committing a crime.
Key to the battered-woman defense is the issue of self defense. New York state law justifies the use of lethal force in response to an immediate threat to life. Under the battered-woman defense, lethal force can sometimes be justified even if the threat may not appear immediate. Court documents said the shooting happened after Sheehan refused to go on vacation with her husband. She testified she was scared because he had threatened to kill her if she didn't go.
Prosecutors said Sheehan shot her husband 11 times using two guns the former police officer had at home. Her husband was in the bathroom shaving before Sheehan shot him.

I don't doubt that abuse was going on. Likely these two people didn't need to share the same home any longer. And I have never ever ever understood how anyone can go to bed and sleep if their partner is SERIOUSLY upset. Because after all, sleeping in front of someone who is seething with anger at you just doesn't seem super prudent on anyone's part, no matter their gender.

There was no abuse in my immediate family though I have since known people who were either abusers or abusees and sometimes both. It's a tricky situation. The best rule imo is to say "no hands for any reason at any time". On the other hand I know that people do have fights and each person has the right to defend themselves. Everyone's tolerance for intimate violence is different. I simply can't imagine staying in a situation where someone was verbally, let alone physically abusing me.

That said, I do not like one bit the concept of "battered woman syndrome".
From afar, it appears as if a few of these woman kills man stories aren't about self-defense as much as they are about someone deciding they aren't going to take it any more or being angry over past humiliations and abuse. And I really don't like the idea of any sort of syndrome being available as a defense to someone only depending on their particular inalienable characteristic. The law -especially laws around killing people- should be blind to that sort of thing as much as possible. I've been on the planet a while now and one thing that I know is that although men and women differ in some key ways, morality isn't among them.

Shooting someone eleven times while they're shaving and then saying they deserved it because of previous incidents, I don't know. Is there a "battered man defense"? Would anyone seriously believe or sympathize with a man who killed his wife or girlfriend because he was "battered" and felt threatened? I don't think so. What's YOUR take?

1) Do you believe that battered woman syndrome should be permissible as a defense?
2) Is there ever any reason for a woman or man to hit each other?
3) Should abused spouses have to try to leave the situation before they can kill the other and claim self-defense?
4) Should you be able to kill people for what they might do as opposed to what they are doing?
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