In R v Thornton (1996) the victim was particularly abusive towards his wife and on the day in question he threw his wife out of the house after abusing her together with a suitcase filled with her clothes.
She returned later that day and tried to patch things up and the victim was even more abusive towards her. She then went into the kitchen and grabbed hold of a kitchen knife and she tried to patch things up again but her husband continued to be abusive and finally she stabbed him in the stomach with the kitchen knife and killed him.
She was charged with murder and at her trial she raised the defense of diminished responsibility but she did not raise the defense of provocation. The judge however did direct the jury on provocation. The jury convicted the accused for murder and the accused appeal. Her appeal was allowed on the grounds that she suffered from a syndrome called battered women’s syndrome.
From the decisions in the above cases we can come to the conclusion that provocation will most likely not be a valid defense for a charge of murder in cases involving battered women and the option of diminished responsibility looks to be the much better option. Therefore, in order for our fictional heroine to commit the perfect crime she has to play the role of an abused wife i.e. she has to be of timid disposition, there have to be some visible traces or evidence of abuse – if the neighbors can testify that they heard screaming and yelling coming from the house it would be better and it would go towards showing that the accused was for all intense and purposes subjected to repeated abuse. Even if the neighbors cannot testify that there was physical abuse they can at least testify that there was verbal abuse.
And the type of words and phrases that we are looking for? – well we are looking for sentences or phrases with foul language and were looking for sentences or phrases that suggest that the victim intended to do some type of harm to the accused i.e. phrases and sentences like “I’m going to hurt you” and “I’m going to kill you” etc. – anything for that matter that would instill fear in an ordinary person.
Moving on we’ll also try and prove that our heroine, because of the abuse she had been subjected to developed what is called Battered Women’s Syndrome (BWS). For starters Battered Women’s Syndrome is a mental disorder and that will allow us to go for the defense of diminished responsibility. It develops over a period of time after the wife has been subjected to repeated abuse, either verbal or physical, and it makes the wife feel helpless or defenseless.
That doesn’t however mean that the relationship is stormy all the time and there may be patches where the victim tries to make up for the abuse and smoothen things over and things appear fine for a certain time and then it starts all over again. So, it is a vicious repetitive cycle that the wife is subjected to and it eventually leads to her developing the syndrome. All of these factors are adduced by evidence and can be tailored with the exception of medical evidence.
Let’s say that our fictional heroine manages to play the role perfectly and that she can rely on the defense of diminished responsibility to have a conviction of murder reduced to manslaughter.
However, there is another defense available for our accused to escape liability and that is the defense of self-defense and we’ll rely on the decision in Beckford v R (1988) to establish that our accused acted in self-defense.
In Beckford v R (1988) the police received a phone call from someone claiming to be the victim’s sister stating that the victim was armed with a gun and was holding his mother hostage. The police in response sent an armed unit to investigate and as the police officers entered the house, the accused saw someone running out the back door.
The accused followed and the victim turned around holding what appeared to be a gun and pointed it at him. The accused retaliated by opening fire and the victim was killed. As it turned out the victim was not holding a gun and no gun was ever found. The accused was charged with murder.
At the trial, the judge directed the jury that the accused in instances of self-defense is only entitled to use reasonable force as opposed to excessive force and if the force that is used is excessive then the accused can be convicted for murder. The jury found that the force that was used was excessive and accordingly convicted the accused for murder.
The accused appealed. The conviction was quashed and it was decided that the jury were misdirected. The accused in cases of self-defense is entitled to use as much force as he or she honestly believes is appropriate in the given circumstances. In this particular instance because the accused honestly believed that the victim was holding a gun he was deemed to be acting in self-defense when he opened fire and therefore adjudged to be not guilty.
In order to commit the perfect crime our fictional heroine, who for all intense and purposes, is a battered wife and has played the part perfectly, despite suffering from a syndrome which gives her a defense, acts or reacts in self-defense i.e. she does something to make her husband attack her and in order to protect herself she unwittingly or unintentionally stabs him. Relying on Beckford v R (1988) our accused can use the force that she deems necessary to protect herself. Will it work or does it belong within the pages of a book? Well if our fictional heroine plays her role perfectly she should get away with a slap on the wrist and it is worth keeping in mind that in this work of fiction the intention to kill was always there.
Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward