Battered Woman Syndrome


Franklin County Criminal Law Casebook

Reproduced with permission from:
Timothy E. Pierce and the Franklin County Public Defender Office

R.C. 2901.06 -- Battered woman syndrome testimony as evidence relevant to claim of self-defense -- Statute recognizes the defense as an affirmative defense justifying the use of force by the defendant and permitting the introduction of expert testimony in support of the defense.
R.C. 2945.392 -- Battered woman syndrome testimony or evidence of impairment of reason -- If plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is entered, syndrome may be advanced as requisite impairment of defendant's reason.
See 18 ALR 4th 1203 (Battered woman syndrome, admissibility of expert or opinion testimony) and 73 ALR 4th 993 (Battered woman syndrome, standard for determination of reasonableness of criminal defendant's belief, for purposes of self-defense claim, that physical force is necessary - modern cases).
State v. Goff, 128 Ohio St. 3d 169, 2010-Ohio-6317 – Court ordered evaluation by a prosecution designated expert who reported he could draw no conclusion on sanity as he was unable to assess the defendant’s credibility. Defendant maintained this violated his right to remain silent. Court holds that it does not but reverses because the order in this case did not limit the expert’s inquiry to the immediate issue whether the defendant’s actions wee affected by battered woman syndrome.
State v. Haines, 112 Ohio St. 3d 393, 2006-Ohio-6711 -- Expert testimony concerning battered woman syndrome may be admitted during the state's case in chief to help the jury understand the victim's reaction to abuse in relation to her credibility. Neither statute nor State v. Koss (1990), 49 Ohio St. 3d 213, limits battered woman syndrome testimony to claims of self-defense or insanity. However, the expert may not render an opinion as to whether the victim suffered from battered woman syndrome. Dissent focuses on the such testimony being seen as other wrongful acts evidence.
State v. Koss (1990), 49 Ohio St. 3d 213 -- Paragraphs one through three of the syllabus: (1) The battered woman syndrome has gained substantial scientific acceptance to warrant admissibility into evidence. (State v. Thomas [1981], 66 Ohio St. 2d 518..., overruled to the extent inconsistent herewith.) (2) A defendant attempting to admit expert testimony regarding the battered woman syndrome must offer evidence which establishes herself as a 'battered woman.' (3) Admission of expert testimony regarding the battered woman syndrome does not establish a new defense or justification. It is to assist the trier of fact to determine whether the defendant acted out of an honest belief that she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that the use of such force was her only means of escape."
State v. Daws (1996), 74 Ohio St. 3d 1284 -- Appeal was dismissed as improvidently granted, but see dissent for discussion of appropriate jury instructions, based on State v. Koss (1990), 49 Ohio St. 3d 213. Position taken is that battered woman syndrome relates to acting in self-defense. It is not in itself a defense allowing a woman to use force if she is a battered woman.
State v. Daws 1994), 104 Ohio App. 3d 448 -- (1) Expert testimony on the battered woman syndrome is admissible to dispel misconceptions of jurors concerning battered women and for the broader purpose of informing the juror's determination whether the defendant's belief and use of force were reasonable. Such testimony is not necessarily a comment on the defendant's veracity, nor is it tantamount to evidence of diminished capacity. (2) Specific instructions relating to battered woman syndrome are required. General instructions on self-defense are not sufficient, though instructions on battered woman syndrome must incorporate the elements of self-defense.
State v. Manning (1991), 74 Ohio App. 3d 19 -- (1) At p. 24: "When a defendant introduces psychiatric evidence and places her state of mind directly at issue, as here, she can be compelled to submit to an independent examination by a state psychiatrist." (2) Victim had passed a polygraph test regarding molestation of stepdaughter and results were known to defendant. Results were admissible to show her state of mind at the time of the shooting, in order to rebut her claim of self-defense. (3) No abuse of discretion in admission of nude photos of the defendant offered to suggest victim's possible use of photos motivated shooting.
State v. Pargeon (1991), 64 Ohio App. 3d 679 -- It was error to introduce expert testimony concerning battered woman syndrome at the trial of a man for domestic violence. While such testimony is appropriate when the battered wife syndrome is advanced as an affirmative defense, admission by the prosecution is improper because it relates to other wrongful acts of the defendant and because probative value is outweighed by potential prejudice.
State v. Donner (1994), 96 Ohio App. 3d 486, 491 -- "Being a 'battered woman,' in the sense of having been abused twice and having remained in the relationship, is not synonymous with suffering from the battered woman syndrome. There are a number of factors relevant to a determination that a particular defendant suffers from the battered woman syndrome...Further, as specifically noted by the Ohio Supreme Court in Koss, suffering from the battered woman syndrome is not, in and of itself, a defense to an alleged crime. Rather, it is relevant to an attempt by the defendant to establish that she acted in self-defense." (Citations omitted.)
Quebodeaux v. Quebodeaux (1995), 102 Ohio App. 3d 502 -- In the context of a domestic relations case claim that wife signed separation agreement under duress, a finding that she suffered from battered woman syndrome was not a prerequisite to a finding of duress.
State v. Thomas (1997), 77 Ohio St. 3d 323 -- Syllabus: "There is no duty to retreat from one's own home before resorting to lethal force in self-defense with an equal right to be in the home."
State v. Engle (1997), 86 Ohio Misc. 2d 41 -- Battered Woman Syndrome accepted in mitigation of sentence pursuant to negotiated plea. From remand in State v. Engle (1996), 74 Ohio St. 3d 525.
State v. Sallie (1998), 81 Ohio St. 3d 673 -- Counsel's failure to present expert testimony with respect to the battered woman syndrome did not amount to ineffective assistance of counsel where defense was accident rather than self-defense.
State v. Nemeth (1998), 82 Ohio St. 3d 202 -- Ohio recognizes "battered child syndrome" as a valid topic for expert testimony where a child is charged with killing a parent. This does not amount to a new defense, but is in support of a claim of self-defense. Such testimony must be relevant and meet the requirements of Evid. R. 702. Under the current version of the rule there does not have to be general agreement in the scientific community in order to satisfy its reliability requirement.

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Published by Timothy E. Pierce
Copyright © Franklin County Public Defender and Timothy E. Pierce, 2015
Contents may not be duplicated without express permission.