Defendant Relies on Battered Spouse Defense in Upcoming Murder Trial

January 22, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

As the murder trial approaches for defendant Sarah Boone, her defense attorneys have stated that their client will be using the Battered Spouse Syndrome as a defense to her boyfriend’s death in 2020.

This article will provide details regarding the case, along with relevant information on Battered Spouse Syndrome, charges for domestic violence, and an example case.

What is Battered Spouse Syndrome?

Despite some belief, battered spouse syndrome is a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rather than a mental illness. Battered Spouse Syndrome (previously referred to as Battered Woman’s Syndrome) is a condition that is created by sustained physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from a partner that results in a variety of physical and emotional symptoms.

Battered Spouse Syndrome is often the result of repeated violence such as:

  • Beating
  • Choking
  • Sexual Assault
  • Verbal Abuse

Common symptoms of Battered Spouse Syndrome are physical indicators of physical violence, which can include:

  • Black Eye
  • Bruises
  • Broken Bones
  • Cuts
  • Scratches
  • Choking Marks

A person accused of killing their spouse out of fear may suffer from Battered Spouse Syndrome, which is created after a cycle of abuse within a couple’s relationship. According to the Florida Bar, there are typically three phases in a cycle of abuse:

  • Phase One – Verbal abuse, minor battery incidents, attempts from the victim to placate the abuser.
  • Phase Two – “Acute battery incident” in which the spouse was severely beaten or abused.
  • Phase Three – Displays of regretful and loving behavior to reinforce the victim’s hope for their spouse’s reform.

The cycle is often an ongoing one, with Phase Three rotating back to Phase One after a period of time. In these instances, the victim of abuse may feel completely helpless. Some may feel as if they have no option but to kill their abuser as a means of escape.

According to NSU, there are four general characteristics of Battered Spouse Syndrome:

  1. The spouse believes the violence was their own fault;
  2. The spouse is incapable of placing the responsibility for the violence elsewhere;
  3. The spouse fears for his or her life and/or their children’s lives; and
  4. The spouse has the irrational belief that their abuser is all-knowing and at no fault.

In a criminal case where a victim is accused of killing their spouse/abuser, it is important to mention that Battered Spouse/Woman Syndrome is not always recognized as a defense. This is because proving a spouse was abused does not necessarily imply that they will be acquitted of a criminal offense.

Instead, the introduction of the Battered Spouse Syndrome can be used as evidence for other reasons of defense, such as self-defense. The use of Battered Spouse Syndrome can give credibility to the defendant by proving he or she believed that they had no choice but to defend themselves from great bodily harm or imminent death.

Case Details

Orange County Police arrested Sarah Boone, 45, for the 2020 death of her boyfriend, 42-year-old Jorge Torres Jr. after he died inside a suitcase in their home. According to the report, the incident took place on February 23rd, 2020 in their Goldenrod-area apartment.

During the investigation, Boone told police that the couple had been drinking wine and playing a game of hide-and-seek. After becoming too tired, Boone claimed to have gone to bed and passed out. The defendant woke up several hours later after hearing her phone ringing. Torres’ body was found zipped inside a suitcase where he was unresponsive and not breathing. Boone contacted the police, who pronounced him dead on arrival.

Upon further inspection, detectives found videos on her phone that showed differently. The videos show Torres trapped inside a suitcase on the couple’s living room floor. Torres was heard repeatedly calling out to Boone. In several instances, Torres told Boone that he couldn’t breathe.

“Yeah, that’s what you do when you choke me,” Boone responded in the video.

The rest of the video shows Torres struggling to get out of the suitcase. Boone is heard telling her boyfriend that he deserved to suffer, “for everything you’ve done to me.”

During the pretrial hearing on January 17th, 2023, Boone’s defense attorney told the judge that the case was not yet ready. He stated that it was still necessary to meet with the defendant, and find defense experts for the trial. Boone’s defense attorney has also stated that he plans to apply the battered spouse syndrome defense to the case.

The judge has set the pre-trial conference for March 28th, with the possibility of the trial beginning the week of April 10th.

Example Case of Battered Spouse Defense

  • Weiand v. StateIn 1994, Kathleen Weiand was accused of shooting her husband which resulted in his death. Before this case, Florida followed the minority rule that the victim has the duty to retreat before choosing to defend themselves with deadly force. The gray area in the case was: What if both the defendant and victim resided in the same home where the killing took place?

A forensic psychologist expert witness was able to prove that Weiand showed all signs of Battered Spouse Syndrome. The expert also stated that it was clear that Weiand believed her husband was going to kill her. However, the jury concluded that, “[t]he fact that the defendant was wrongfully attacked cannot justify her use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if by retreating she could have avoided the need to use that force.” Weiand was convicted of second-degree murder of her husband, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. However, the case did open the discussion regarding Battered Spouse Syndrome as a defense.

Battered Spouse Syndrome in Criminal Rules of Procedure

Under Rule 3.201 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, the defendant can rely on evidence of battered-spouse syndrome at trial. The rule requires defendants to file notice with the court that the defendant is seeking to use battered-spouse evidence. By filing the notice, defendants are then able to use expert testimony to explain battered spouse syndrome and the characteristics of people suffering from the syndrome. This evidence can strengthen the claim of self-defense. The jury will still have to determine if the defendant was justified in the use of deadly force. To learn more about Florida’s self-defense laws and history, read our blog here.

Charges for Domestic Violence in Florida

Florida Statute Section 741.28 covers the definitions of domestic violence. According to Florida Law, domestic violence is any sort of violence acted out against a family or household member which results in serious injury or death. This can include any of the following criminal charges:

“Family or household members” implies a person’s spouse, former spouse, blood-related family members, family members through marriage, or persons who reside together as a family.

The consequences of a domestic violence charge can vary on a case-to-case basis but can have life-altering outcomes. If you or someone you know has been accused of domestic violence, we strongly advise reaching out to a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney in your area.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Violent criminal offenses are harshly prosecuted in Florida, with convictions leading to paying fines, imprisonment, probation, or all of the above. Working with an experienced criminal defense lawyer is the best way to protect yourself and your future. Don Pumphrey and his team have years of experience working on criminal cases in Florida. Our attorneys will put in the time and effort to build a strong defense for your case. To receive a free consultation regarding your case today, contact Pumphrey Law Firm at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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