Is “Battered Child Syndrome” a Defense to Murder?
In 1994, defendant David Welch stood accused of murdering his own father. He was charged with first-degree murder and convicted. During the trial, Welch was portrayed by prosecutors as a troubled young man. There were rumors that he had joined a cult of some kind. His father was portrayed as a concerned, but loving, parent who couldn’t keep a leash on his son. However, there were indications of a much darker history between Oscar Welch, David’s father, and David himself.
Nearly 25 years later, however, Welch is up for parole. His defense attorneys are trying to tell the story that his public defenders never did. David Welch was an abused child in fear of his father. Welch turned up at school on multiple occasions with black eyes and bruises.
During the trial, his public defenders never called a single witness. Instead, they angled for reduced charges of second-degree murder or manslaughter. Welch was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years minimum as an adult.
What is Battered Child Syndrome?
Battered child syndrome is used to describe a series of symptoms and behaviors related to child abuse. This can include everything from serious neglect to sexual abuse. It is assumed, in the legal world, that children who have been subjected to this abuse over the course of years would have a building sense of animosity for their parents. In some cases, the child might lash out and even kill them.
Battered child syndrome as a defense to murder is a sort of insanity plea or diminished capacity defense. The defense attorney argues that their client reached a breaking point and could no longer deal with incessant abuse.
In the United States, there have been at least four state supreme courts that considered the issue of battered child syndrome as regards the use of expert testimony to discuss the matter. Two of those states did not allow that testimony while the other two did.
Expert testimony is crucial to convince a jury that a child acted, if not reasonably, normally. It’s difficult to convict a child for murdering their parents when that child is doing what any of us would have also likely done. It also helps to have a medical expert discuss the long-term behavioral issues that arise from being raised in an abusive environment.
However, it’s important to note that a battered child (or battered woman) defense is not a assertion of self-defense. In order to a self-defense argument to be permitted in a murder trial, the defendant must have been in imminent danger. So the defense is relegated to the position of arguing diminished capacity by sustained abuse. It is more complex than that. In most cases, those who are the victims of this sustained abuse fear punishment for revealing the abuse and also feel absolutely dependent on their abusive family member. In these cases, they feel as though they only have one option.
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If you’ve been charged with a crime, the West Palm Beach criminal attorneys at the Skier Law Firm, P.A. can help you raise a sound defense to the charges. Talk to us soon and we can set up an appointment.