Maryland Woman’s Battered Spouse Defense Entitled Her to Use Boyfriend’s Abusive Words as Evidence at Her Murder Trial

When you are facing criminal charges, there are multiple ways to achieve a successful outcome. You may seek to prove that you didn’t do the crime the state alleged. Alternately, you may try to prove that, even if you did it, you have a legal defense (like self-defense) that prevents your being found guilty. Especially when your defense rests upon one of these “affirmative defenses,” it is essential to make sure you get all of the evidence that supports your defense placed into evidence. A skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you in proving all of the necessary elements of your affirmative defense.

Recently, a case from Prince George’s County offered an example of such a circumstance playing out in court. The accused, Tania, admitted that, on Oct. 24, 2007, she fatally shot her boyfriend. At the time, Tania stated that the boyfriend had raped her, which led to the shooting. Tania was tried and convicted, but that conviction was later overturned on appeal.

In her second trial, the state presented the case as a murder-suicide in which Tania failed to complete the suicide part. In her defense, Tania attempted to argue as an affirmative defense that she was suffering from battered spouse syndrome at the time of the shooting. Tania had an expert witness who testified on her behalf with regard to battered spouse syndrome, Tania’s suffering from the syndrome, and its effects on her actions. At the trial, though, the judge restricted many pieces of testimony that Tania wanted to introduce. Some of this was testimony from Tania, some from the expert witness, and all of it related to things that the boyfriend allegedly said to Tania.

There are certain types of statements, called hearsay (which is one witness’ testimony about statements made by another person), that are generally not admissible because the law considers them too unreliable. This hearsay rule was the basis for much of Tania’s evidence being kept away from the jury. In the end, the jury convicted her a second time. Again, she appealed, and, again, she won a new trial. The key to Tania’s successful appeal this time was contained in the battered spouse syndrome statute. That law says that a criminal defendant who uses a battered spouse syndrome defense may present to the court “evidence of repeated psychological abuse of the defendant by the victim.”

The appeals court explained that the statements were not hearsay and were instead evidence of the psychological abuse Tania allegedly suffered. That meant they were covered by the statute, so Tania should have been able to use them in her defense. One of the things that makes a statement hearsay and inadmissible is that it must be used to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Thus, for example, Tania sought to present testimony that the boyfriend once ordered her to “get naked” immediately after guests left. If she’d offered it to prove she was dressed at that moment, it would be hearsay, and she couldn’t use it. However, she offered it to prove that the boyfriend domineered and abused her verbally, so it was admissible.

Similarly, Tania’s expert should have been allowed to testify about the things the boyfriend allegedly said. The psychological expert was not attempting to prove the truth of anything stated in those boyfriend comments, but she was using them to demonstrate how the boyfriend’s behavior had the effect of being psychologically abusive to Tania and created a state of mind within Tania that qualified as battered spouse syndrome.

There may be many different pathways to the end result of a successful outcome in your criminal case. One path may include using an affirmative defense. Skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi can help you plot out a course for a successful criminal defense. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

How a Flaw in Jury Instructions Allowed a Maryland Murder Defendant to Secure a New Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Sept. 7, 2017

Maryland Court of Appeals Grants New Trial to Battered Wife in Murder-for-Hire Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Aug. 10, 2017


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