A new ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals is a very important one regarding how battered spouse syndrome can affect and bolster a criminal defendant’s defense. In the ruling, the court concluded that the law of imperfect self-defense requires a belief that the threat was immediate or imminent, but the requirement of imminence does not require proof of closeness in terms of time. In other words, the battered wife on trial did not need to prove that she feared that her husband was going to kill her immediately in order to obtain a jury instruction on imperfect self-defense in her Maryland criminal trial.
The case arose from what law enforcement initially thought was a robbery-gone-wrong incident. Ultimately, police concluded that no robbery took place and that the shooting at the gas station was part of a wife’s murder-for-hire plot to kill her husband. At trial, the wife testified that she did, in fact, hire various individuals for the purpose of killing her husband. She testified that she did so because the husband had abused her for decades, and she had come to fear that, if she didn’t kill him, he would kill her. The wife offered multiple witnesses to back up her claim, including a forensic psychiatrist, who opined that the wife suffered from battered spouse syndrome.
At the conclusion of the case, the two sides debated the proper instruction to give the jury regarding self-defense. The trial judge ultimately gave the jury the instruction proposed by the prosecution. After deliberation, the jury found the wife guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder.