Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Battered Woman Syndrome.

There is a very thoughtful feature piece over at Medill's 'On The Docket' about Battered Woman Syndrome and how courts treat the subject when expert evidence is offered.

The focus in this particular piece is on Dixon v. U.S., a woman who attended two gun shows in Dallas, TX, accompanied by her boyfriend. Dixon's boyfriend was a convicted felon and was unable to legally purchase a firearm at the gun shows, so he had Dixon "do the dirty work for him." Dixon purchased seven guns for him. Dixon was ultimately charged with receiving a firearm while under indictment (for participation in an unrelated check-cashing scheme) and for making a false statement to purchase a firearm. Dixon acknowledging breaking the law, but said she had acted under duress because she had been abused for many years by the boyfriend and feared serious bodily harm or death if she did not follow his instructions to purchase the firearms.

The court refused to allow expert testimony relating to Battered Woman Syndrome and its possible role in Dixon's actions. The court reasoned that the expert testimony would be overly subjective. Dixon did present evidence about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her boyfriend, but the jury was not convinced. Dixon was convicted and sentenced to 34 months in prison. Dixon appealed, challenging the court's refusal of the expert evidence and concerning the court's conclusion that BWS is an affirmative defense that the defendant bears the burden to prove. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Dixon's arguments on appeal. Now SCOTUS has agreed to hear the case, but only on the issue of what standard of proof the defendant should be held to in proving duress.

In the article about BWS, there is a good discussion of how BWS is treated differently in various states and of the juxtaposition of law, advocacy, and science involved in matters such as BWS and post-traumatic-stress disorder. Some really good food for thought in there, and certainly support for, at the least, the notion that there should be some kind of uniform treatment of BWS from state to state.


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