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Is Battered Person Syndrome a Valid Defense

Nov 17, 2016, by Maurice Davis in Criminal Defense, Domestic Violence, Legal Blog

Every year, more than 10 million men and women are abused by a spouse or partner, according to a report from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Ultimately, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be victims of some type of domestic violence by a partner during his or her lifetime. The figures could be even higher due to under-reporting. Some men and women become part of a cycle of physical, emotional and sexual violence that causes significant psychological distress. Sometimes a portion of these abused individuals do fight back against their abusers and ultimately face criminal charges for assault or manslaughter after protecting themselves. Battered Person Syndrome is applicable to many of their situations and must be carefully considered as part of their defenses.

If you are facing a similar situation, contact an experienced Michigan defense lawyer with Davis Law Group at (313) 818-3238.

What is Battered Person Syndrome?

Battered Person Syndrome is a psychological condition that can occur after a person has suffered significant mental and/or physical abuse for a period of time. It is more commonly referred to as Battered Woman Syndrome or Battered Spouse Syndrome because women are statistically more often abused by a romantic partner. However, it is readily recognized that abuse occurs across both genders. Women can suffer abuse at the hands of other women and men can be victims of domestic violence from either male or female partners.

This syndrome was first discussed by Dr. Lenore Walker in 1979. In her book titled “The Battered Woman,” Dr. Walker describes common characteristics and a pattern of behavior found in individuals who have been physically and psychologically abused. The cycle identified in Battered Person Syndrome includes:

  • Step 1: There is an increase of tension between the batterer and victim. The batterer perceives being wronged or disrespected by his or her partner. Dr. Walker stated this initial stage was characterized by minor abuse.
  • Step 2: In this stage, Dr. Walker found the batterer escalated to unhindered and brutal violence. This is the batterer relieving his or her anger toward the victim in an emotionally, physically, or sexually violent way. This violence is coupled with the batterer making it clear that his or her actions are the victim’s fault.
  • Step 3: In the third stage, the batterer is calm, loving, remorseful and asks for forgiveness. While promising to not become violent again, the batterer reinforces the premise that the victim was at fault for the violence.

While this is considered the classic pattern of Battered Woman Syndrome, professional views regarding this condition have evolved. Battered Person Syndrome has now been established as a sub-category of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by psychologists. In relation to using this syndrome as part of a legal defense, its inclusion in the DSM lends credibility that can enable a jury to better understand an expert witness’s testimony. Additionally, because many jurors will be aware of PTSD, it can make the syndrome more real and relevant when it is a wholly new concept.

Can Battered Person Syndrome Be Used as a Defense?

Battered Person Syndrome can be used in a person’s legal defense in Michigan. However, it cannot be used as its own special defense and there are limitations as to when expert testimony regarding the syndrome is relevant.

Michigan courts began to recognize the relevance and validity of Battered Woman Syndrome in the early 1990s and have reaffirmed evidence regarding the condition can be used as part of a defense strategy as recently as 2007. Individuals cannot use Battered Person Syndrome as their sole defense, but they can use it as part of a claim of self-defense. Defendants can elicit expert testimony to describe the common characteristics and pattern of this condition. The expert testimony can also be used to help the jurors understand why a defendant acted the way he or she did and why those actions may seem out of the ordinary.

A Michigan Court of Appeals recently retouched on the fact that Battered Person Syndrome is not always an option for a defendant and can only be used in regard to self-defense. For instance, Donald Glenn Lasley was arrested in May 2013 for shooting his daughter and was convicted of a firearm offense and murder. On appeal, Lasley claimed he was denied a fair trial because he could not use the Battered Person Syndrome defense and that the shooting came after years of verbal abuse by his child. The Michigan Court of Appeals found Lasley never raised a self-defense claim at trial, where the Battered Person Syndrome would be relevant, and that there was no connection between this condition and the shooting that Lasley claimed was accidental.

Michigan Criminal Lawyer Maurice Davis Can Help

If you are facing criminal charges and you believe you suffer from Battered Person Syndrome, you should immediately contact Davis Law Group. Attorney Maurice Davis understands how difficult it is to be charged with a crime after defending yourself against an abuser. He will help analyze your particular situation and if applicable, utilize Battered Person Syndrome as part of your self-defense strategy to protect your freedom. We will aggressively fight for your rights and won’t let a strong defense go unused.

Call Davis Law Group at (313) 818-3238 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.



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