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Bechtel v. State

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was found guilty of first-degree murder for killing her abusive husband. Appellant argued she should have been able to present evidence that she suffered from battered woman syndrome.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A battered woman may kill her mate during the period of threat that precedes the violent incident, immediately before the violence escalates or make take action during the lull in an assaultive incident as long as if given the circumstances, she perceived the danger of serious bodily harm as imminent.

    Facts. Appellant was found guilty of first-degree murder of her husband. Appellant was battered on 23 documented occasions which consisted of severe beatings. On the night in question, Appellant’s husband came home intoxicated and commenced beating Appellant’s head into the ground. Appellant’s husband passed out and Appellant grabbed a gun and shot her husband. Appellant argued that it was self defense and appealed based on the judge’s ruling that she could not present expert testimony on the battered woman syndrome.

    Issue. Whether Appellant should have been able to present expert testimony on battered woman syndrome to show she killed in self defense.

    Held. The trial court erred in not allowing testimony on the syndrome.
    A battered woman is repeatedly subjected to forceful, physical or psychological behavior by a man in order to coerce her to do something he wants her to do without any concern for her rights. The woman must go through the battering cycle at least twice.

    A person is justified in using self defense if that person reasonably believes that use of deadly force was necessary to protect herself from imminent danger of great bodily harm.

    The word imminent must envelope the battered women’s perceptions based on all the facts and circumstances of her relationship with the victim.

    Concurrence. The concurrence agreed that Appellant should have been allowed to present evidence of self defense. The concurrence disagreed on the perceived overhaul on the law of self defense. The concurrence believed that the evidence the Appellant would have presented would have been sufficient under the traditional definition of self defense.

    Dissent. The dissent argued that a rule should be adopted that applies equally to all genders. The rule the majority adopted, the dissent argued could run into equal protection issues. Further, the dissent argued that the task of enlarging the legal defenses allowed is the responsibility of the legislature.

    Discussion. The Court ruled that the battered woman syndrome had gained support and was accepted as related to post traumatic stress syndrome and was admissible to show the affect on her state of mind at the time of the killing. The Court outlined the procedure a Defendant would have to undertake to present evidence of the syndrome which included allowing the prosecution to examine and produce their own expert witnesses and establishing that the experts presented were qualified to present such testimony.


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