South Carolina Requests to Charge – Criminal (2018)


§ 6-17 Self-Defense – Battered Person’s Syndrome

The defendant claims self-defense as a result of battered person’s syndrome. Evidence that the defendant suffers from battered person’s syndrome was admitted for your consideration in connection with the defendant’s claim of self-defense.

A battered person is a person who repeatedly is subjected to any forceful physical or psychological behavior by another person in order to coerce the battered person to do something the batterer wants the battered person to do without any concern for the battered person’s rights. The battered person’s syndrome is identified by a series of common characteristics that appear in people who are abused over an extended period of time by the dominant [male] [female] figure in their lives. These characteristics include fear, hypersuggestibility, isolation, guilt, and emotional dependency, which culminate in the battered person’s belief that the battered person should not and cannot escape the batterer. A battered person believes the batterer is capable of killing the battered person.

The battered person’s syndrome results from the cyclical nature of the relationship between the battered person and the batterer. In the first phase of the cycle, tension increases between the two and minor abuse occurs. In the second phase, the violence escalates and the battering takes place. In the third phase, which occurs after the battering, there may be a temporary lull in the physical abuse inflicted on the battered person, at which time the battered person forgives the batterer. During the third phase, the batterer may feel contrite and loving, and may promise that the violence will never happen again. As the relationship progresses, however, the tension building before battering becomes more common, and the batterer’s feelings of loving contrition decline.

A battered person suffers from “learned helplessness” as the repeated batterings, like electrical shocks, diminish the battered person’s motivation to respond. This stems from the battered person’s belief that the batterer is more powerful than the batterer actually is, and the battered person’s fear of retaliation if the battered person summons help. As a result, the battered person ceases trying to escape even when the opportunity to do so is present.

The first element of self-defense requires evidence that a defendant not be at fault in bringing about the difficulty. Often a battered person will kill an abuser during a confrontation when the abuser clearly is the aggressor, so that this element is satisfied. However, it may be possible to characterize a battered person as the victim of a continuing assault at the hands of the batterer. When this is the case, the first element of self-defense may be satisfied even though the battered person acts at a time when the batterer is not physically abusing the battered person.

The second element of self-defense requires a defendant to actually have been in imminent danger, or to have believed that, at the time the defendant acted, [he] [she] was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm. At times, a battered person actually is in imminent danger of violence when the battered person acts. Depending upon the facts of the case, the second element of self-defense also may be satisfied when the battered person believes the battered person is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm even though the batterer is not physically abusing the battered person when [he] [she] acts. This is because battered persons can experience a heightened sense of imminent danger arising from the perpetual terror of physical and mental abuse. Often the terror does not wane, even when the batterer is absent or asleep.

The third element of self-defense requires a defendant to show that a reasonable, prudent person in the same or similar circumstances would have acted as the defendant did in order to save [himself] [herself]. Where torture appears interminable and escape impossible, the belief that only the death of the batterer can provide relief may be reasonable in the mind of a person of ordinary firmness.

Under the fourth element of self-defense, a defendant must show that the defendant had no other means of avoiding the danger than to act as [he] [she] did. A battered person who is held hostage by the batterer may have no other means of avoiding a battering than to kill the batterer in self-defense. Moreover, a battered person often may be able to claim the inapplicability of this element of self-defense because the battered person acts while on the battered person’s own premises, and has no duty to retreat.