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State v. Stewart

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant, Peggy Stewart, was charged with first degree murder after she killed her husband while he slept.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    In order for a criminal defendant to assert self defense based on battered woman’s syndrome, the threat she is facing must be imminent or else the defense will not be applicable.

    Facts.

    Defendant, Peggy Stewart, was charged with first degree murder after she killed her husband while he slept. Stewart argued that she killed him in self defense and her argument was supported by testimony from her daughter, which she stated that Stewart had developed psychological problems over the years after being abused constantly by her husband. The husband would repeatedly abuse Stewart's other daughter, Carla, and when she asked him to stop he would threaten her and put a gun to her head. The husband repeatedly put a gun to her head, abused her, and even shot one of her pets. Stewart escaped from the husband's home and went to live with her daughter. While there, she was admitted to the hospital where she revealed that she felt like she wanted to shoot her husband. Finally, Stewart returned to the husband’s home where he threatened to kill her if she ever left again. Subsequently, Stewart took a loaded gun and shot her husband while he slept. At trial, an expert testified that Stewart suffered from what was know as Battered Woman Syndrome and the judge instructed the jury on self defense.

    Issue.

    Whether in order for a criminal defendant to assert self defense based on battered woman’s syndrome, the threat she is facing must be imminent or else the defense will not be applicable?

    Held.

    Yes. in order for a criminal defendant to assert self defense based on battered woman’s syndrome, the threat she is facing must be imminent or else the defense will not be applicable.

    Dissent.

    The mere fact that the victim was asleep at the time does not mean he did not pose imminent danger and if Stewart had a reasonable belief that she was in danger, then the self defense instruction is warranted.

    Concurrence.

    None

    Discussion.

    The danger the defendant is facing must be imminent because the defense arises out of necessity and it is not enough that the defendant fears injury at anytime, but the threat must be imminent. While a period of abuse that builds up over time can warrant self defense during a conflict, it is not warranted when the defendant is facing no imminent danger at the time of the killing. Here, while Stewart’s husband was constantly abusing her and threatening her life, when he was killed he was sleeping and there was no imminent danger to Stewart. Stewart could have left the home, she had two cars available to do so and she chose to deliberately go back to live with her husband and retrieve a loaded gun to shoot him. Thus, a self defense instruction is not warranted.


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