Criminal Law Class Notes 10/31/03


State v. Norman


If North Carolina applies the common law, why isn’t Norman entitled to a self-defense claim?  It rests on the meaning of the word “imminent”.  At common law, this term means “just about right now”.  We’re talking seconds, not minutes or hours or days or weeks.  Since that’s not what we have in Norman, the Supreme Court of North Carolina represents the traditional view.  Under the ruling of this case and in most common law jurisdictions, Norman would not even be entitled to an instruction on the justification of self-defense.


The first significant battered woman case (where the victim kills the batterer in a non-confrontational situation) was known as the “burning bed case”.  She poured gasoline on her husband and set him on fire.  What would be a plausible defense other than self-defense?  What about temporary insanity or diminished capacity?  The thing that was done seems pretty kuh-razy.


The attorney was a private attorney, but the woman was not wealth.  Women’s groups raised funds for her to pay the attorney.  The women’s groups told the attorney that he shouldn’t claim insanity, but rather self-defense.  The groups were sensitive to the distinction between justification and excuse.  They understood the significance of that distinction intuitively.  They didn’t want the woman to be seen as crazy.  That’s an excuse for doing something wrong.  The groups wanted the court to find that she did the right thing; that is, she was justified.


Criminal law is, in a sense, a morality play, especially in cases like this.  The jury represents the community’s values.  They represent the judgment of the community as to whether the defendant’s conduct is right or wrong, above and beyond whether the defendant should be punished.


The women’s groups told the lawyer that they wouldn’t pay him unless he would plead self-defense.  That’s a conflict of interest.  The attorney considered doing self-defense, but didn’t.  Later cases, like Norman, tried the self-defense route.


Pretend we don’t know of battered woman syndrome.  Forget the law.  Do we justify her conduct?  Do we excuse her conduct?


One theory is that Mr. Norman did not deserve to live.  That’s the moral forfeiture theory.  What if he gets killed by a hit man?  Dressler suggests that if you follow the moral forfeiture theory where it morally takes you, there must be no social harm in taking Mr. Norman’s life and thus no principled reason that it’s not okay for Judy or anyone else to do it.


Another theory is the moral rights theory.


The Model Penal Code formulation of self-defense


The Model Penal Code doesn’t focus on the amount of time before the actor will be killed, rather, it focuses on the actor to figure out if it is necessary now to use deadly force against the victim.


Say Mr. Norman tells Mrs. Norman she’s going to leave the room and get a gun to kill her.  Under common law, Mrs. Norman is defenseless until Mr. Norman actually gets the gun and points it at her.  However, under the Model Penal Code, she would be justified in killing Mr. Norman before he gets the gun if she believes he’s going to kill her soon.


Even if there’s no battered woman syndrome, the fact that Mrs. Norman is a battered woman arguably should be admitted into evidence.  The fact that she’s been beat up a lot makes her belief system more reasonable.


The law treats human life as almost sanctified.  It doesn’t want innocent people to kill even bad guys unless absolutely necessary.  That’s why there’s just a strong requirement that the threat to the defender be imminent.


Compare to the situation with Iraq…is pre-emption ever justified?  Or was the threat framed as imminent?


Does syndrome evidence arguably turn a justification defense into an excuse?


When we get in to the excuse defenses: are there any excuses that could be used to excuse Judy Norman?


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