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Law School Case Brief

State v. Stewart - 243 Kan. 639, 763 P.2d 572 (1988)

Rule:

The test for self-defense under Kansas law is a two-pronged one. A court first uses a subjective standard to determine whether the defendant sincerely and honestly believed it necessary to kill in order to defend. An objective standard is then applied to determine whether defendant's belief was reasonable -- specifically, whether a reasonable person in defendant's circumstances would have perceived self-defense as necessary. In cases involving battered spouses, the objective test is how a reasonably prudent battered wife would perceive the aggressor's demeanor.

Facts:

After a history of abuse by her husband,  defendant killed him while he slept. Defendant argued she suffered from battered spouse syndrome and the killing was justified. Based on a jury verdict, trial court found defendant not guilty due to self-defense. The prosecution filed a reserved question asking whether the statutory justification for deadly force excused a homicide committed by a battered wife, when no evidence of deadly threat or imminent danger existed.

Issue:

Is self-defense only considered when the victim is really in danger at the time of the incident?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court held that battered-woman syndrome can be considered as self-defense only if facts show that the defendant-spouse was in real danger at the time of the incident. The self-defense instruction cannot be considered when a wife kills her husband at a time when there was no danger. It must be necessary to kill for self-defense to be valid.

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