'Battered spouse' evidence bill offered


ANNAPOLIS -- Women who kill or attempt to kill their abusive spouses or mates would be permitted to introduce evidence that they were suffering from "battered spouse syndrome" under legislation overwhelmingly approved by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.

The bill, which now goes to the full House of Delegates, would not specifically stipulate that evidence of "battered spouse syndrome" could be used as a legal defense in place of the traditional claim of self-defense, but would allow it to indicate a "motive or state of mind" of the accused assailant.

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where a vote could come as early as today

Under the amended bill, a defendant could raise the issue that she -- or he -- "was at the time of the alleged offense suffering from battered spouse syndrome as a result of the past course of conduct" of the victim, even if the defendant was the first aggressor, used excessive force or failed to retreat at the time of the offense.

Similar legislation failed in the General Assembly last year, but gained prominence this year when Gov. William Donald Schaefer last month commuted the sentences of eight women imprisoned for assaulting or murdering abusive husbands or boyfriends.

With only one dissenting vote, several members of the Judiciary Committee said they expected lawyers to use evidence of spousal abuse syndrome as part of their defense strategy and, even if the client is convicted, to present it again to the judge and jury as a mitigating factor in determining the sentence.

"The important thing is that the evidence be admitted and consideredby the judge and jury, that we make sure it is considered by the court,"said Delegate Kenneth Montague Jr., D-Baltimore.

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