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Law School Case Brief

Hawthorne v. State - 408 So. 2d 801 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1982)


In a battered woman case, a defective mental state on the part of the accused is not offered as a defense as such. Rather, the specific defense is self-defense which requires a showing that the accused reasonably believed it was necessary to use deadly force to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to herself or her children.


Defendant was convicted of the second degree murder of her husband. On appeal, the court reversed and remanded for new trial, holding that the exclusion of expert testimony regarding battered woman syndrome was error, as it would address an issue that was beyond jurors' ordinary understanding.


Does the exclusion of expert testimony on defendant’s mental state warrant the reversal of defendant’s conviction?




The court reversed defendant's conviction for second-degree murder and remanded the case for a new trial. The testimony would have assisted the jury in understanding why a battered woman would not leave her mate, or inform police or friends, and would fear increased aggression against herself. The court held that, on remand, the trial court had to determine whether the expert was qualified. The court also held that the trial court improperly allowed the prosecution to impeach defendant's testimony with testimony from her first trial, because the prosecution failed to sustain its burden of showing that the original testimony did not result from a statement that was illegally obtained and improperly introduced at the first trial.

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