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Battered Spouse Syndrome: A Criminal Defendant’s Affirmative Defense

There are very few situations in the criminal justice realm where someone may injure or kill another and the court finds that the actions are excusable or justifiable. When it comes to justifiable or excusable felonies, generally the criminal defendant will be charged with the crime, and the defense will put forward some form of affirmative defense that may lessen or exculpate a criminal defendant for his or her actions. Though in the news there are many more articles written to discuss “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida, a lesser-known defense is gaining traction with the Courts. This is known as the “battered spouse syndrome.”

What is Battered Spouse Syndrome?

The battered spouse syndrome refers to the state of mind that may exculpate women who have been the subject of abuse by a husband or partner, who ultimately retaliate. The “retaliation”, however, is understood in the context of a cycle of abuse that the woman is defending herself from continual abuse. Many times in self-defense arguments there must be a showing that there was a threat of force or imminent danger or bodily harm to the person or persons in the area. That, in the mind of the courts, is justifiable, especially where the violence is occurring in someone’s home. The “castle” doctrine provides that people are permitted to defend themselves and their home and do not have to retreat in the case where there is a threat of violence while at home.

Difference between Battered Spouse Syndrome vs. Stand Your Ground

With battered spouse syndrome, the persons involved share the home, thus making the “castle” and “stand your ground” doctrine less effective or useful, especially in the case where the couple are married. The concept of battered spouse syndrome provides justification where a spouse (in many cases, women) is subject to continual physical, emotional, and mental abuse over a long period of time and there is a cycle of abuse. The cycle provides that the abuse gets worse and worse over time, there is an event where the spouse is physically injured, the abuser apologizes or compensates with significant amount of attention and love to bring the victim back to the relationship, and then the series of incremental violence and abuse starts up again.

Use and Issues of Battered Spouse Syndrome

For battered spouse syndrome to be utilized in court, the burden of proof is on the criminal defendant and her/his attorney to show that she/he was subject to a cycle of abuse at the hands of her/his spouse. This can be difficult to show if the abuse was more emotional or mentally traumatic rather than consistently physical. There also is a timing issue that must be considered. For example, with self-defense types of affirmative defenses, there must be a showing that the action taken by the defendant was to defend her life from bodily harm or injury. In the case of battered women syndrome where fear is ever-present, it may be harder to distinguish at what point the violence was imminent or whether there was no physical threat of force or violence. This difficulty is discussed in cases where the spouses wait until the abuser is asleep or incapacitates the abuser and then attacks, rather than waiting for the physical abuse to begin. Either way, battered spouse syndrome has been utilized in Florida, but the parameters of how well it works and for what situations are still in question.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Battered spouse syndrome is an affirmative defense available to defendants who acted out of fear of their abusers. An experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik can provide legal advice to those who are interested in obtaining orders of protection against stalkers or abusers. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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