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State v. Norman

Scott Caron

ProfessorScott Caron

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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State v. Norman
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    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Judy Ann Laws Norman (Defendant), shot and killed John Thomas Norman (Mr. Norman) while he slept after Mr. Norman had beaten the Defendant on the day in question. Mr. Norman also had a history of beating the defendant.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The right to kill in self-defense requires that the defendant be faced with imminent death or great bodily harm.

    Facts. Mr. Norman and the Defendant had been married twenty-five years and Mr. Norman had been beating the Defendant since about five years after they were married. Over the course of the marriage, the abuse had gotten so severe that the defense psychologist characterized it as “torture, degradation, and reduction to an animal level of existence, where all behavior was marked purely by survival…” The Defendant was in constant fear of Mr. Norman and she did not seek help for fear of serious reprisal by Mr. Norman, possibly including death. On the day of the killing, Mr. Norman had made the Defendant sleep on the floor until one of the couple’s daughters asked if the Defendant could watch her baby. When the baby began to cry, the Defendant took the child to her mother’s house. At her mother’s house, the Defendant found a gun, took it back to her home and shot Mr. Norman. The Court of Appeals of North Carolina ordered a new trial, citing as error the trial court’s refusal to submit a possible verdict of acquittal by reason of self-defense.

    Issue. Does the victim’s passiveness at the time of the killing preclude the Defendant from asserting self-defense?
    Held. Yes. “The right to kill in self-defense is based on the necessity, real or reasonably apparent, of killing an unlawful aggressor to save oneself from imminent death or great bodily injury at his hands.” Imminent danger is defined as that which one cannot be protected from by the calling for help or the protection of the law. In the present case, the evidence failed to show that the defendant was confronted with imminent death or great bodily harm when the she shot her husband. Rather, the victim was asleep at the time, and the evidence tended to show that the defendant had ample time and opportunity to utilize other methods to avoid the abuse of her husband. The court does not favor permitting this type of “homicidal self-help.”
    Dissent. The evidence was sufficient to require the trial court to instruct on the law of self-defense.

    Discussion. A killing by a woman suffering from “battered wife syndrome” cannot be done in self-defense unless death or serious bodily harm is imminent.


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