I have mentioned before that domestic violence is one of the biggest problems in our community. It is also one of the least known. Most cases involving family violence are treated as misdemeanors in the state and superior courts. However, there is one aspect of this type of violence that can have an impact on the most serious criminal cases. It is the concept of “battered person syndrome.”

The appellate courts in Georgia have described the battered person syndrome as a series of common characteristics that appear in women (and sometimes men) who are abused physically and psychologically over an extended period of time by the dominate person in their lives.

This syndrome is important because it is considered an affirmative defense in Georgia. It is typically used in conjunction with a self-defense or justification defense. A good example would be when a female is charged with the murder of her husband. The facts show that he had a long history of abusing her. If the female defendant can convince a jury that she suffers from battered person syndrome and that the circumstances were such that would excite the fears of a reasonable person possessing the same or similar psychological and physical characteristics of the defendant at the time that the deceased victim used force against the defendant, then she may be acquitted by a jury.

However, this defense can be complicated and challenging to implement. Before a defendant is even entitled to a battered person syndrome defense, the defendant must present the opinion testimony of an expert as well as independent testimony regarding the historical facts upon which the expert relied upon.

Additionally, even if an expert witness testifies that a defendant suffers from this syndrome, the trial court must consider the following factors before allowing a defendant to assert this defense: (1) whether there was a close personal relationship between the defendant and the victim, (2) whether there was a pattern of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, and (3) whether the defendant possessed a reasonable apprehension of harm.

Additionally, psychological abuse which humiliates or embarrasses an individual, while deplorable, when unaccompanied by other acts or verbal statements giving rise to a reasonable fear of imminent physical harm cannot alone justify the assertion of the battered person syndrome.

Interestingly, prosecutors can use the battered person syndrome in limited circumstances as well. This syndrome has been used in cases to explain the actions of victims of crimes. For example, in a 2002 case, the prosecution was allowed to show through expert testimony that a victim of domestic abuse would not be expected to report the defendant to the police because she suffered from battered person syndrome.

Battered person syndrome is a valid and logical defense in some cases. But, it is in fact a defense. That means that someone has been badly hurt or killed as a result of the actions of another person. Usually, a very serious criminal prosecution will ensue.

So, it is obviously best to never put yourself in a position where this issue must even be addressed. While it may be very difficult to do so, always call the police when there is serious family violenceincident in the home. Opportunities like court intervention, drug and alcohol treatment, shelters, anger management training, and family counseling can assist in avoiding all types of family violence.

If nothing else works, you may have to do the most difficult thing imaginable. Leave the situation.