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State v. Norman

    Brief Fact Summary. Norman (D) murdered her sleeping husband, and at trial, defended her conduct by pleading his habitual battery of her.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Habitual battery by a spouse is not a defense to murder.

    Facts. Norman (P) had been battered by her husband for many years. At last she shot him while he was sleeping. At her trial for homicide, she pleaded that he had battered her for many years. The trial court refused to instruct the jury accordingly, and they found her guilty. The appellate court reversed the verdict, deciding that the self-defense instruction was appropriate. The state asked for review of the case.

    Issue. Is habitual battery by a spouse a defense to murder?

    Held. (Mitchell, J.) No. Habitual battery by a spouse is not a defense to murder. If self-defense is raised as a justification for homicide, the threat of death or of bodily injury must have been imminent, so as to cause justifiable fear. Under this defense, deadly force is used in self-defense only as a last resort. In this case, Norman was under no imminent threat at the time of shooting. The court wishes to keep the pitiful situation of battered wives in mind, but at the same time it cannot approve when they take the law into their own hands because they feel that they will be subjected to future spousal assaults, which is not conducive to good public policy. The verdict is reversed.

    Dissent. (Martin, J.) The issue at question here is whether the defendant had a justifiable reason to believe that she needed to defend herself from probable grave injury at the spouse’s hands in the future.

    Concurrence. N/A

    Discussion. N/AThe use of battery by the spouse as a defense is a major change from the usual pattern of use of legal self-defense. The court here points out that imminence is a basic element of traditional self-defense. Neither battered-spouse syndrome nor battered-child syndrome contain this element, and it is almost necessary that they do not, to conform to the traditional definitions.


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