Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Director of Public Prosecutions v. Bracken Supreme Court of Victoria at Melbourne: Criminal Division (2014)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

This decision concerned the admissibility in a murder trial of expert evidence regarding the effects of family violence. The defendant argued self-defense, claiming that because of the deceased’s physical and verbal violence towards him, he reasonably believed that he had to kill her in order to prevent her from killing or seriously injuring the defendant or his father. The expert evidence in question was a general report on family violence, which considered (among other things) the cumulative psychological and social effects of family violence on an abused person. The Court found that the evidence was admissible on the basis of section 9AH of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). This section of the Crimes Act was enacted on the recommendation of the Victorian Law Reform Commission in 2004, to ensure that juries have the benefit of the current state of knowledge regarding family violence. The Commission expressed the view that, although community awareness about family violence was improving, there was “widespread misunderstanding about the nature and dynamics of abusive relationships and their impact.”

Mondal v. State Of West Bengal Supreme Court of India (1998)

Sexual violence and rape

The trial court convicted the appellant of murdering her brother-in-law, which the High Court confirmed. On appeal, the Supreme Court found that the trial court based its conviction solely on the appellant's confession to killing the deceased with a katari (type of dagger). However, the appellant also stated that the deceased had attacked and attempted to rape her before she grabbed the katari and used it in self-defense. The Supreme Court held that the circumstances of this case constituted valid self-defense to prevent rape pursuant to Indian Criminal Code Section 100 and thus acquitted the appellant.

Longsworth v. The Queen Court of Appeal of Belize (2012)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The appellant threw an accelerant on her husband, followed by a lit candle. She then immediately attempted to douse the flames in water. Her husband died and she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, the appellant attempted to introduce new evidence that she had suffered from Battered Women Syndrome (“BWS”). This evidence was not available during the appellant’s trial because there were no qualified forensic psychiatrists available in Belize. The Court of Appeal granted the appeal on the ground that (1) it was capable of belief; (2) it was relevant to the issues before the jury; (3) it would have been admissible at trial; (4) the trial attorney had been asked why no medical evidence was presented at trial; (5) the new evidence may have caused the jury to decide differently; (6) the evidence supported a defense of diminished responsibility and (7) it cast doubt as to the reasonableness of the verdict and admission of the evidence was in the interest of justice. The court considered the findings of an experienced and distinguished professional in the field of forensic psychiatry who examined the appellant, interviewed witnesses, reviewed trial documents, and found that the appellant’s history and behavior was consistent with BWS. The forensic psychiatrist concluded that the appellant had been physically, sexually, financially, and psychologically abused by her partner for nine years. This abuse, together with the appellant’s response to the abuse, was found to be consistent with BWS. The Court reduced the appellant’s sentence to eight years. This case was the first time that a court in Belize admitted new evidence in relation to BWS and PTSD in connection with a defense of diminished responsibility.

Republic v. C.W. High Court of Kenya at Siaya (2016)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The defendant was accused of the killing of her husband. She entered into a plea agreement to reduce the charge of murder to manslaughter. The deceased returned home on May 7, 2016, intoxicated and accused the defendant of infidelity. A violent domestic fight ensued and the defendant used a kitchen knife to fatally stab the deceased. The defendant was also injured by the deceased during the altercation. The defendant asked the court for a non-custodial sentence based on a number of mitigating circumstances including the fact that the defendant is the primary caregiver of her three children with the deceased, aged five, three, and one. Relatives and friends of the deceased confirmed that he was verbally and physically abusive to the defendant and the killing occurred in “the heat of the moment.” Furthermore, the defendant had no prior record, demonstrated remorse, and the deceased’s family and the community had forgiven her and were willing to help her raise her children. The High Court agreed that these factors merited a non-custodial status, adding that the defendant is both the accused and the victim, and was acting in self-defense even though she used excessive force. The High Court handed down a three-year non-custodial sentence. This case marks an important example of Kenyan courts treating victims of domestic violence with leniency where excessive force is used while defending themselves from their abuser.

Case of Sebastian Ramirez Ledesma Supreme Court (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Sebastian Ramirez Ledesma was found guilty of murdering his father by the lower court. The lower court sentence was confirmed by the Court of Appeals. However, in 1997, the Supreme Court overturned the sentence and absolved the accused of all charges because he acted in self-defense. On the day the events took place, Joaquin Ramirez, father of the accused was drunk and threatening to kill his wife, Francisca Ledesma de Ramirez. Joaquin Ramirez regularly hit his wife. In light of these circumstances, the accused intervened trying to defend his mother, which enraged his father. Joaquin Ramirez took out a gun and fired three shots at the accused, missing him. Then, Joaquin Ramirez continued the aggression against his wife. Subsequently, the accused was able to grab the gun from his father. When Joaquin Ramirez realized that his son took the gun, he took out a knife. At this point, the accused fired the gun at his father, killing him. The Supreme Court overturned the sentence because it found that the accused was acting in self-defense and also was trying to protect his mother.

El tribunal inferior declaró a Sebastián Ramírez Ledesma culpable de asesinar a su padre. La sentencia de éste tribunal fue confirmada por el Tribunal de Apelaciones. Sin embargo, en 1997, la Corte Suprema anuló la decisión y absolvió al acusado de todos los cargos por actuar en legítima defensa propia. El día en que ocurrieron los hechos, Joaquín Ramírez, padre del imputado, estaba ebrio y amenazaba con matar a su esposa, Francisca Ledesma de Ramírez. Joaquín Ramírez golpeaba regularmente a su esposa. Ante estas circunstancias, el imputado intervino tratando de defender a su madre, lo que enfureció a su padre. Joaquín Ramírez sacó un arma y disparó tres tiros al imputado, fallando. Luego, Joaquín Ramírez continuó la agresión contra su esposa. Posteriormente, el imputado pudo arrebatarle el arma a su padre. Cuando Joaquín Ramírez se dio cuenta de que su hijo tomó la pistola, sacó un cuchillo. En este punto, el acusado disparó contra su padre y lo mató. La Corte Suprema anuló la sentencia porque encontró que el acusado actuó en defensa propia y también en defensa de otros, tratando de proteger a su madre.

Uganda v. Kamuhanda High Court at Fort Portal (2014)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The accused was charged with murdering his father. The accused’s mother testified that her husband, the deceased, repeatedly physically abused his wife and children. After a day of drinking, the deceased chased his wife and children out of the house. The deceased’s wife went to see her older son, Muhwezi. Muhwezi took his mother to the local council chairman, who took her to the police. After the police refused to do anything, the deceased’s wife and children spent the night at the local council chairman’s home. The deceased was found dead in the family home the next morning. Muhwezi confessed that he argued with his father and killed him in self-defense. The prosecutor requested at least 40 years imprisonment, but the Court, citing researched on the effects of long-term domestic violence, sentenced the accused to two years imprisonment.

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.

VaaHO:2006:16 Court of Appeal of Vaasa (2006)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The issue here was whether a partner's experience of domestic violence during her former relationships could be seen as a mitigating circumstance in connection with the partner's manslaughter of her new partner. A (female) had killed B (male) by making a deadly strike with a kitchen knife. Before the strike A had flailed the knife in a way which caused several marks on B's body. A and B were arguing on the night of the stabbing. A claimed that B had never before been violent towards A, but in A's former relationships A had experienced domestic violence. The District Court found that the fact that there was a plastic bag behind the living room sofa containing knives collected from the house could suggest that there was a threat of violence. It found that there were some indications of justifiable defense and sentenced A to prison for 8 years 6 months for manslaughter. The Court of Appeal held that B had attacked A unlawfully, causing A the need for self-defense. However, it found that the use of a knife in the situation was not justifiable, as A did not receive any grave wounds except for bruises. The Court found that A was guilty of excessive self-defense. According to Chapter 20 Section 3 of the Finnish Criminal Code (39/1889, as amended) (the "Criminal Code"), if the manslaughter, in view of the exceptional circumstances of the offense, the motives of the offender or other related circumstances, when assessed as a whole, is to be deemed committed under mitigating circumstances, the offender shall be sentenced for killing to imprisonment for at least four and at most ten years. The Finnish government proposal (94/1993) for the Criminal Code states that these kind of exceptional circumstances can be present when a wife has been constantly terrorized with violence by her husband and she kills him. The Court held that A had a traumatic background and had experienced domestic violence but that there had not been, according to A, any previous violence by B towards A. The Court did not consider this an exceptional circumstance. A was sentenced to five years in prison for manslaughter committed as excessive self-defense.

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.

State v. Ferreira and Others Constitutional Court of South Africa (Konstitusionele Hof van Suid Afrika) (2004)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Gender violence in conflict, Gender-based violence in general

The appellant, convicted of hiring two workers to kill her abusive husband, argued for a reduced sentence. The court held that a lesser sentence is permitted only when there are "truly convincing" circumstances or where a life sentence is disproportionate or unjust. Expert testimony regarding battering and its effects showed how her behavior fit a well-known pattern for abused women. The court found this testimony convincing and held that the appellant's use of third parties to kill her husband did not invalidate her claim to be a victim of battering. Additionally, the court held that appellant's failure to testify should have no effect on her credibility. The court reduced her sentence but declined to acquit the appellant because of the premeditated nature of the act.

Die appellant, wat skuldig bevind is aan die huur van twee werkers om haar geweldadige man dood te maak, het aangevoer vir 'n verlaagde vonnis. Die hof het beslis dat 'n verlaagde vonnis slegs toegelaat word as daar 'werklik oortuigende' omstandighede is, of as 'n lewenslange vonnis buite verhouding of onregverdig is. 'n Getuienis van kundiges rakende die geweld en die gevolge daarvan het getoon hoe haar gedrag pas by 'n bekende patroon vir mishandelde vroue. Die hof het bevind dat hierdie getuienis oortuigend was en het bevind dat die applikant se gebruik van derde partye om haar man te vermoor nie die feit ongeldig gemaak dat sy ‘n slagoffer van geweld is nie. Verder het die hof beslis dat haar versuim om te getuig geen effek op haar geloofwaardigheid moes hê nie. Die hof het haar vonnis verminder, maar het geweier om die applikant vry te laat weens die voorbedagte aard van die handeling.