Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Battered woman's defense prevails

Drunken driving charge defeated

Sunday, March 28, 1999

WRENTHAM-- A Foxboro woman was acquitted of drunken driving after claiming she failed four sobriety tests because she feared she would be beaten by her husband.

A Wrentham District Court jury found Kathleen Barrett, 35, not guilty of driving while under the influence. Instead, she was fined $35 for failing to stay in her lane. The jury deliberated less than two hours earlier this month.

The battered woman's syndrome defense is often used in murder cases, but Barrett is one of the first defendants to use the strategy against a drunken-driving charge, said her attorney, Victor Sloan.

He said Barrett and her husband, who were married 9 years, had a physically and emotionally abusive relationship.

“Yes, her driving was impaired, but it was not because of alcohol,” Sloan said. “It was because of the effect the abusive relationship had on her state-of-mind.”

Barrett was arrested on Route 1A in Norfolk on Jan. 23 after allegedly crossing the center line more than once.

She told police she drank three beers over a four-hour period, but claimed she was not intoxicated. Barrett refused to take a Breathalyzer test and failed parts of four sobriety tests.

She had been looking for her husband who had stormed off after an argument outside a Walpole eatery.

“She told me that if she didn't find him, she would get beaten when she got home,” Sloan told The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro.

“That was the most paramount thing on her mind, and having that on her mind affected everything she did that night of driving, answering the police officers' questions and taking the field sobriety tests,” he said.

The threat of abuse can have many effects on a woman's actions, said Lee Ghazil, executive director of New Hope of Attleboro-Taunton, an advocacy group for abuse victims.

“Your heart is pounding, and there is fear,” Ghazil said. “Domestic violence has many effects and can certainly affect her ability to function.”

©1999 Worcester Telegram & Gazette