A CRIMINAL LAW REFORM IN LOUISIANA AND ITS PROFOUND IMPACT ON BATTERED WOMEN CHARGED WITH MURDER.

AuthorKitto, Eleanor Leontine Guidry

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 109 I. THE SELF-DEFENSE DOCTRINE 112 A. PLEADING SELF-DEFENSE AS A BATTERED WOMAN: UNIQUE 114 CHALLENGES AND FACTORS TO CONSIDER I. UNDERSTANDING THE ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP 115 II. How ABUSE AFFECTS PERCEPTION AND REASONABLE BELIEF 119 II. CASE STUDY: STATE V. CURLY 120 A. LOUISIANA COURTS HAVE HISTORICALLY VIEWED BATTERED WOMEN 121 SYNDROME AS A MENTAL DEFECT ON THE DEFENDANT I. FIRST TRIAL STRATEGY: DECLINING TO PLEAD INSANITY 123 II. SECOND TRIAL STRATEGY: PLEADING NOT GUILTY BY REASONS 125 OF INSANITY B. THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT'S RECENT REFORM 127 III. HOW THE SELF-DEFENSE DOCTRINE CAN BE IMPROVED TO BETTER 127 ACCOMMODATE BATTERED WOMAN SYNDROM A. LESSONS LEARNED 127 B. POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENTS 129 I. FOR ATTORNEYS: HOW TO EFFECTIVELY REPRESENT A BATTERED 130 WOMAN II. FOR JUDGES: HOW TO SUPPORT A BATTERED WOMAN AT TRIAL 131 III. FOR LEGISLATORS: THE POSSIBILITY OF STATUTORY REFORM 132 IV. CONCLUSION 141 INTRODUCTION

Catina and Renaldo Curley were married for over nine years. (2) It is undisputed (3) that throughout their marriage Mr. Curley was physically abusive towards his wife. (4) This abuse finally ended on March 30, 2005, when Mrs. Curley shot and killed her husband. (5) At trial, she argued her act was justifiable as self-defense, but was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. (6)

On the night of his death, Mr. and Mrs. Curley were living apart. (7) Mrs. Curley returned home to gather some clothing from the upstairs bedroom. (8) Mr. Curley followed her upstairs. (9) He was angry and made threatening remarks towards his wife. (10) Mrs. Curley armed herself with a handgun, which she attested was for protection. (11) She attempted to locate her car keys to leave, and while there are varying accounts of what exactly happened next, it is undisputed that Mrs. Curley shot her husband in the chest killing him. (12)

The State charged Mrs. Curley with second degree murder. (13) Evidence of domestic abuse was clear. (14) The couple's children testified to this fact at trial, (15) and testimony from Mrs. Curley's boss corroborated the severity of the abuse. (16) Additionally, Mrs. Curley testified that her husband prevented her from seeking help. (17) At trial, her attorney attempted to present a self-defense claim, but ultimately the jury convicted Mrs. Curley of second degree murder. (18) She received a life sentence. (19)

On appeal, the Louisiana Supreme Court accepted the defendant's writ application. (20) At the trial court level, defense counsel argued that Mrs. Curley shot her husband in self-defense. (21) However, The Louisiana Supreme Court found that his representation was ineffective because he did not possess an adequate understanding of battered woman syndrome. (22) His lack of knowledge regarding the psychological effect of domestic abuse barred his ability to present a successful defense. At her new trial Mrs. Curley was found not guilty and freed. (23) There are two key differences that contributed to this drastically different result. This comment will offer an in-depth analysis of both. First, it was critical for the defense to clearly illustrate by expert testimony the connection between spousal abuse and Mrs. Curley's act of self-defense. Second, the Louisiana Supreme Court corrected a long-held belief that battered woman syndrome is a mental defect "only relevant in the 'insanity' context." (24)

This comment will examine the relationship between self-defense and battered woman syndrome to show how evidence of domestic abuse can be used to support a battered woman's defense at trial. Part I will examine the self-defense doctrine and the psychological effect of abuse on an individual. Part II will highlight a recent reform in Louisiana jurisprudence regarding self-defense law. Part III will propose ways to further improve the application of self-defense law. A woman who defends herself or her children from an abusive partner should be able to successfully assert self-defense at trial. However, Louisiana courts have historically precluded relevant evidence because of misconceptions regarding battered women syndrome. This issue is important because survivors of domestic abuse have been disproportionally denied protection under self-defense law and sentenced to unnecessarily harsh prison sentences.

In a homicide proceeding involving a battered woman, her act of self-defense is inextricably linked to the abusive situation that it arose from. The defense needs to connect her violent act with her partner's abusive nature. Thus, evidence of domestic abuse and battered woman syndrome should be used to support her claim. An effective defense must educate the jury regarding post-traumatic stress disorder and its effect on the defendant's perception of imminent danger. Judges, jurors, and attorneys need to properly consider the position of a woman who kills to protect herself or her family from further harm, because survivors who defend themselves against their abuser should not be subjected to excessive periods of incarceration.

  1. THE SELF-DEFENSE DOCTRINE

    The concept of self-defense is based upon the belief that an individual should be able to take appropriate action to defend oneself against bodily harm. (25) This idea has been justified throughout history, and modern Anglo-American law still reflects this belief. "If a person's autonomy is compromised by [an] intrusion, then the defender has the right to expel the intruder and restore the integrity of his domain." (26)

    Under Louisiana law, "a homicide is justifiable when committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger." (27) When a defendant asserts self-defense, the state carries the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense. (28) The trier of fact shall determine the reasonableness of the defendant's action, and lethal force is justifiable to defend oneself against lethal force. (29)

    The notion of self-defense is closely tied to "castle doctrine," which empowers one to use force, including lethal force, to defend oneself at home. (30) This doctrine is such named because of the principle that a man's home is his castle. (31) The legal effect of this principle is that a violent act may become protected or privileged under certain circumstances. Thus, self-defense was historically intended to protect human life within the sanctity of the home. (32) A man could protect himself in his "castle" because there he was "king." However, in a time when a woman could not hold property, this doctrine offered limited protection. (33) Perhaps a woman could claim self-defense if attacked by a stranger in her home. (34) However, if the attacker was her husband she had no claim. (35) Castle doctrine was later expanded beyond the scope of the home. (36) In Louisiana, an individual is now permitted to use force, including deadly force, to protect oneself in any situation where he reasonably believes that he is in grave danger. (37)

    1. PLEADING SELF-DEFENSE AS A BATTERED WOMAN: UNIQUE CHALLENGES AND FACTROS TO CONSIDER

    Historically, the concept of self-defense addressed the need to protect oneself from an outside attack, but did not contemplate the notion that violence may arise within the home itself. The notion of self-defense as a justification for homicide evolved from a male centered perspective, and historically women were not the intended beneficiaries of this privilege. (38) As a result, the modern doctrine often fails to properly protect women because it does not account for the different ways that women and men perceive danger, and it does not contemplate the different ways that women and men must act to defend themselves.

    The traditional paradigm of self-defense contemplates two male actors of approximately equal strength. (39) However, a battered woman and her husband have a unique dynamic. A woman will likely not compare to her partner in physical strength, and as a result may defend herself with a weapon. (40) She may feel that a weapon is a necessary to protect herself, especially when previous attempts to fight back only resulted in additional violence. (41) A woman's act of self-defense may look very different from the traditional notion of self-defense. For example, if a woman uses a weapon to defend herself against her unarmed partner, her use of force may seem excessive. (42) However, it can be reasonable when one considers the psychological effect of past battering incidents and inherent size differences between men and women.

    Moreover, the imminent danger requirement is based on a presumption that the self-defense situation arose from a "onetime adversarial encounter" as opposed to a systematic relationship of abuse. (43) When determining whether the actor was in imminent danger the court will consider the situation at the time of the incident. (44) However, a battered woman may react forcible sometime after the man beats or threatens her. (45) Thus, it may seem that the danger was not truly imminent when she exercised self-defense. Often the jurors will wonder why she did not simply leave the situation instead.

    There are many unique challenges that a battered woman asserting self-defense must overcome, and the current self-defense analysis does not consider these issues. We have made significant advancements in our understanding of mental health, specifically in regard to post-traumatic stress disorder and battered woman syndrome. It is imperative that the law evolve to accommodate this knowledge. This proposition is further developed below, as we now examine the psychological effect of battering on an individual.

  2. UNDERSTANDING THE ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

    "Fewer than 1200 battered women kill their batterers, while over 4000 women are killed by the men who batter them. The deadliest time...

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