Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Rex v. Shongwe High Court (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The 54-year-old accused pleaded guilty to culpable homicide based on allegations that she unlawfully poured boiling water on her husband. He refused to seek medical attention for his injuries because he was embarrassed and he died six days later. The Court ordered a suspended sentence because the accused “had been and was being” viciously attacked by her husband and was escaping his attack. The Court based its judgment on a finding that there was a combination of extenuating factors present, including that the accused suffered from battered wife syndrome, the needs of the six remaining minor children for whom the accused is the sole caretaker and provider, that the accused had already served two years imprisonment before she was released on bail, and the deceased’s refusal to go to the hospital for treatment for fear of being ridiculed by other men.

People of the Philippines v. Marivic Genosa Supreme Court of Philippines (2004)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Marivic Genosa admitted to killing her husband after a quarrel in their house and was sentenced to death in 1998. The Supreme Court of the Philippines heard an appeal of this decision under the pretense that Ms. Genosa was a victim of battered woman syndrome (BWS). The appeal posited that the consistent abuse Genosa faced at the hands of her husband had caused BWS which meant she was in a constantly threatened state and acted in self-defense when she killed him. The court ruled that as a victim of BWS, her husband’s cumulative provocation had broken down her self-control and made the murder an act of passion. The court repealed Ms. Genosa’s death sentence and released her in consideration of her six years spent in prison. This is a landmark case in acknowledging the deep psychological impact abusive relationships have on women. By setting a legal precedent to consider BWS as an extenuating and real circumstance, the Supreme Court promoted a stronger legal recognition of and protection for abused women.

R. v. Bear Provincial Court for Saskatchewan (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Ms. Bear was charged with aggravated assault for stabbing her partner more than a dozen times in his abdomen, arms, and face, leaving him in critical condition. Ms. Bear also received serious cuts to her leg and hand in the course of the altercation. In her defense, Ms. Bear claimed that she acted in self-defense and offered expert testimony that she and the victim were caught up in a cycle of violence commonly referred to as “battered woman syndrome.” Both parties were intoxicated at the time of the incident, and Ms. Bear testified that her partner was blocking the only exit. Ms. Bear had a history of assault, but she also had a history of involving herself in violent relationships. The trial judge accepted the theory of “battered woman syndrome” and found Ms. Bear not guilty on the charge of aggravated assault, holding that she had clearly acted in self-defense and that the lethality of her actions was not unreasonable given her situation.

People v. Humphrey California Supreme Court (1996)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Defendant shot and killed her partner, Albert Hampton (“Hampton”), in their home in Fresno, California. When a police officer arrived she immediately surrendered, told him where the gun was, and admitted that she shot him. She explained, “He deserved it. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told him to stop beating on me.” Defendant was charged with murder with personal use of a firearm. At trial, the defense asserted that Defendant shot Hampton in self-defense. They presented expert testimony on battered women’s syndrome from Dr. Lee Bowker, who stated that Defendant suffered from an extreme case of the syndrome. The court acquitted Defendant of first-degree murder and instructed the jury on second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and self-defense. The judge explained that for self-defense to be a complete or perfect defense to all charges, Defendant must have had an actual and reasonable belief that the killing was necessary. The judge further explained that an actual but unreasonable belief, imperfect self-defense, was a defense to murder but not to voluntary manslaughter. The judge instructed jurors that they could only use the battered women’s syndrome evidence to decide whether Defendant had an actual belief that the killing was necessary. The judge said the evidence could not be used to decide whether Defendant had a reasonable belief that the killing was necessary. The jury found Defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter with personal use of a firearm. The court sentenced her to eight years in prison. The Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment. The Court held that the trial court erred when it instructed the jury that battered women’s syndrome evidence could not be used to determine whether Defendant had a reasonable belief that the killing was necessary. The Court opined that Defendant’s corroborated testimony had made a plausible case for perfect self-defense to all charges and the instruction error could have affected the verdict in a way adverse to Defendant.