In this assault case, the complainant and the defendant dated periodically for a period of time encompassing the past 13 years. A New York Family Lawyer said the instant charge stems when the defendant is alleged to have picked up the complainant, thrown her over a couch, pushed her to the ground, and stomped on her groin, thereby causing her to allegedly suffer bruised ribs and a fractured coccyx.
A Nassau County Family Lawyer said that the People detail the complainant’s allegations of physical and psychological abuse by the defendant over a prolonged period of time. Included are litanies of alleged violent acts directed at her by the defendant. The alleged violence included threatening to kill the complainant on numerous occasions, repeatedly beating her, urinating on her, various acts of forcible sex, and constant berating of her. Although these acts occurred over a period of 13 years, except for brief sporadic periods of separateness, the complainant did not leave the defendant nor immediately seek protection from the police. A Nassau County Criminal Attorney said that the charges contained in the criminal complaint did not report the alleged crime to the police. Later, after other alleged incidents, the complainant reported this charge to the police along with four additional charges. Thereafter, the defendant was arrested for the above-listed crimes.
A Nassau County Custody Lawyer said the People are prepared to proceed to trial, and in so doing, argue that expert testimony would aid the jury in the understanding of the complainant’s delay in reporting the incident. Further, the People specifically emphasized that their expert would be called to give an opinion in support of their contention that the complainant suffers from battered woman syndrome. The People claim that the expert’s testimony will explain why the defendant abused in front of another and that the expert’s testimony is necessary to explain why the complainant waited nearly three months to report this incident.
The defendant opposes the calling of the expert, arguing, in essence, that the expert’s testimony is not appropriate since the complainant was not a battered woman, but, instead, a scorned woman, who had engaged in false accusations because of her baseless belief of the defendant’s infidelity and/or unexplained whereabouts. In addition, defendant seeks to preclude the BWS expert as inapplicable since the parties were neither married nor living together and defendant claims that the complainant was the aggressor.
The issue to be resolved in this case is whether introduction of expert testimony on the subject of battered women syndrome should be permitted by the court in response to the alleged assault.
A New York Custody Lawyer said the Court held that the admissibility and bounds of expert testimony are addressed primarily to the sound discretion of the trial court. The “battered woman syndrome” has been described as “a series of common characteristics found in women who are abused both physically and emotionally by the dominant male figures in their lives over a prolonged period of time.
Typically, BWS is advanced by defendants to assist the jury in evaluating the reasonableness of force used in self-defense wherein the proponent of the testimony, the defendant, is charged with a crime. Only a few New York courts have discussed the use by the prosecution on their direct case of an expert regarding BWS.
The court finds that the use by the People of a BWS expert to explain a complainant’s complete recantation of the charges is dramatically different than the use to explain a delay in reporting the alleged crime. New York courts have generally adopted the following tests for admissibility of BWS expert testimony at trial: (1) whether the evidence presented by the expert witness has the required scientific basis for admission, (2) whether the jurors are not able to evaluate and draw conclusions from the evidence based on their day-to-day experiences, their common observation and their knowledge, and would benefit from the specialized knowledge of an expert witness, and (3) whether the probative worth of the expert’s testimony outweighs the possibility of undue prejudice to the defendant or interferes with the jury’s province to determine credibility. In permitting the expert testimony on BWS, courts limit the testimony and prohibit the People from allowing the expert to opine that the complainant is a battered woman because of the profound danger that the jury will infer from the BWS testimony that the defendant committed the crime charged or that the jury will unduly use BWS testimony to improperly bolster the complainant’s credibility.
Various other courts have allowed the People to introduce expert testimony about BWS to explain a recantation, a prior inconsistent statement, or unusual behavior. The People herein seek to introduce expert testimony on BWS on their direct case for the following stated reasons: to explain the delay in reporting the assault, repeated reconciliations with the defendant after the beatings, and why she believed the defendant’s threats to kill her if she reported this incident. As this court in in one of its ruling has denied the introduction of the various alleged uncharged crimes in the instant prosecution, the only surviving inquiry relates to the delay in the complainant’s reporting.
Although the court acknowledges that there does exist varying misconceptions regarding battering relationships, this court does not believe any such potential lack of understanding in this particular case is sufficient grounds for admitting expert testimony which otherwise has only limited probative value but substantial prejudicial impact on the defendant. Simply put, if a BWS expert is permitted to give testimony in this particular case and begins by detailing the symptoms experienced by a “battered woman” or person, this leads to the inference that (1) the complainant is a battered woman, and (2) the defendant committed prior acts of violence against the complainant.6 This, in essence, gives rise to the jury determining that the defendant has a propensity to commit domestic violence against this complainant. Finally, the complainant’s state of mind is not at issue here, nor is proof that the defendant is a batterer or that the defendant and the complainant were involved in a battering relationship. Expert testimony regarding the symptoms of a battered person leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the complainant suffers from BWS, which presupposes and speculates on the existence of a batterer. Since there is no evidence that any other person other than the defendant was involved in a relationship with the complainant during the relevant time period, such testimony amounts to an opinion that the defendant was and is in fact a batterer.
After reviewing both the People’s memorandum of law and the defendant’s memorandum in opposition, and considering counsel’s arguments on both sides of the issue, the court will not permit the People’s proposed expert to testify on their direct case regarding battered woman syndrome. In sum, expert testimony on battered woman syndrome should be admissible only to address an issue that is inherently confusing to the jury and when there is no other evidence to address it. The court finds that the admission of any such testimony is not necessary to aid the trier of fact in this case in assessing the circumstances surrounding the relatively minimal delay in the complainant’s reporting of the instant alleged offense, and finds the probative value outweighed by the prejudicial impact. As such, the People are precluded from introducing such evidence on their direct case.
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