Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Case Law Development: Expert Testimony on Battered Women May Be Introduced to Explain Woman's Death-bed Denial of Abuse in Prosecution for a 20-year-old Murder Charge.

The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of a man who had murdered his wife twenty years earlier.   When interviewed by police in the hospital shortly before her death, the wife had denied that he had beaten and her husband had told her son to tell the police his mother had been hit by a car.  Another child witness would not testify.  As adults, the children came forward and provided evidence of the incident at the trial, along with wife's deathbed statements, and expert testimony concerning the common characteristics of battered women to explain the wife's denial of the incident.

The New Jersey Supreme court found that the twenty-year delay between the crime and the indictment did not violate defendant's due process rights.  The court also reviewed the use of expert testimony in the case.  The court commented that, "We have no doubt that the ramifications of a battering relationship is still a subject that is beyond the ken of the average juror." The court found the record sufficient to support the introduction of the expert's testimony regarding the phenomenon of battered women denying the source of their injuries.  Noting that the courts did not have a model jury charge for the use of expert testimony concerning the characteristics of battered women and battered woman's syndrome, the court referred the matter to the Committee on Model Criminal Jury Charges for its consideration and development of a proposed model charge.   One judge dissented on the admission of the expert testimony.

State v. Townsend, 2006 N.J. LEXIS 644 (May 15, 2006)
Opinion on the web (last visited May 16, 2006 bgf)

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