Brief Fact Summary.
Leidholm stabbed her husband while he slept and claimed self-defense based upon years of abuse.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A person who acts when the circumstances as she perceives them show such actions to be necessary to protect her from imminent danger acts in self-defense.
Defendant and her husband had a troubled marriage. On August 6, 1981, the two had another violent fight and then went to bed. Defendant then stabbed her husband while he slept. At her trial for murder, Defendant claimed that she was acting in self-defense in response to years of abuse and in anticipation of future abuse. The trial court instructed the jury on an objective standard of reasonable doubt, the Defendant would escape liability only if a reasonable person would have believed herself to be in imminent danger. Defendant was convicted and appealed.
Is self-defense properly evaluated under a subjective standard?
(VandeWalle, J.) Yes. A person who acts when the circumstances as she perceives them show such actions to be necessary to protect her from imminent danger acts in self-defense. In this case, Defendant clearly held a subjective belief that she was in imminent danger, and her actions should have been evaluated under that subjective standard by the jury. The jury also heard expert testimony on “battered women syndrome.” Some characteristics of the syndrome include low self-esteem and “learned helplessness” on behalf of the abused woman. This testimony was included in a proposed jury instruction regarding whether Defendant’s husband had abused her and what her mindset was. This separate instruction is not necessary. Instead, the jury should be instructed that it should consider that testimony when evaluating the existence and the reasonableness of the Defendant’s imminent fear under the subjective self-defense standard. Reversed and remanded.
The court here rejects the objective test for self-defense and adopts the subjective standard. The objective standard originally given to the jury disregards the particular sensitivities and experiences of an individual defendant. The subjective standard allows the jury to consider such sensitivities and experiences and to evaluate the defendant’s perceptions.