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State v. Norman

Citation. 173 Wn.2d 1023, 272 P.3d 851 (2012)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Defendant, Norman (Defendant), shot her husband several times in the back of the head while he slept. The Defendant claimed perfect self-defense as a complete justification for the homicide.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Expert testimony that defendant suffered from battered-woman’s syndrome causing her to believe that her husband would inevitably kill her does not rise to the level of the imminent harm required for a defense of justifiable homicide.


Testimony at trial revealed that the Defendant’s husband had a history of abusive conduct toward his wife that resulted in her becoming afflicted with battered-woman’s syndrome. After a particularly violent series of abusive episodes at the hands of her husband, the Defendant went to her daughter’s home, from which she took a gun, and returned to shoot the Defendant several times in the back of his head while he slept.


Is a reasonable belief that the Defendant’s abusive husband will eventually kill her sufficient to support a claim of perfect self-defense where defendant has herself killed her husband?


No. Reversed.
The Defendant’s subjective belief that her husband will inevitably kill her is not the equivalent of a belief that her husband was going to kill her imminently. Absent an imminent threat to one’s life, self-defense cannot be claimed by defendant to justify the homicide. Her testimony about what she believed her husband might do to her in the future, regardless of the reasonableness of the belief, does not constitute an imminent threat required under the self-defense statute.

None of the abuse allegedly committed by the Defendant’s husband ever rose to the level of threatening death or even great bodily harm. The use of deadly force to prevent harm other than death or great bodily harm is excessive as a matter of law.


Testimony of husband’s escalating abuse of the Defendant in the last three days of his life was sufficient to establish a reasonable belief on the part of the Defendant that her husband was going to kill her imminently, even though he was asleep.


The majority in this case places particular emphasis on the imminence of the perceived threat to maintain a defense of justification. The court seems to suggest that “imminence” as a concept has a boundaries and that the notion of a man asleep being an imminent threat to anyone exceeds those logical limits.

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