Law News

Battered Woman's Syndrome Applies to Men Too, Judge Finds

By Michael Riccardi
New York Law Journal
December 8, 1999

"Battered Syndrome," a broader and gender-neutral version of "battered woman's syndrome," may be introduced as part of a claim of justification in a homicide prosecution, an upstate County Court judge has ruled in an ongoing manslaughter trial.

The defendant in People v. Carl Colberg, Indictment No. 94/99, intends to call an expert witness to flesh out a claim that he was the battered parent of the son whom he shot to death on April 1.

Sullivan County Court Judge Frank J. LaBuda issued an opinion on Friday, holding that defendant Carl Colberg could raise "battered syndrome" as a defense in his trial. The ruling came down in the midst of jury selection.

The decision will be published Wednesday.

New York courts have recognized "battered child syndrome" and "battered woman's syndrome" as possible justification for killing an abusive spouse or parent. But Judge LaBuda's recognition of a gender-neutral and broad "battered person's syndrome" is apparently a new application of the concept.

"If the claimed elements of being 'battered' are the same regardless of the relationship between the parties or their gender then there is no reason to limit admissibility of expert testimony in a 'battered syndrome' case to only women or children," Judge LaBuda said.

On April 1, Mr. Colberg, a retired major with the New York State Police, was confronted by his son, Christopher Colberg.

According to a memorandum filed by Mr. Colberg's defense counsel, Henri Shawn of Monticello, N.Y., the younger Mr. Colberg, who allegedly had a history of alcohol and prescription drug abuse, broke down his parent's bedroom door and moved toward them in an "uncontrollable rage."

The elder Mr. Colberg shot and killed his son, and defense counsel said it wanted to present the son's history of physical and verbal abuse toward his parents to make out a case that the shooting was justified as self-defense.


STATE OF MIND
Judge LaBuda reasoned that justification defenses are based on the state of mind of the defendant. Battered persons, whether women, children or others who are abused, may have a similar state of mind that may give rise to justification.

"'Battered syndrome' evidence may be material and relevant in light of the test of subjective reasonableness of the actions of the defendant," Judge LaBuda said.

Moreover, the battered person's syndromes have become generally accepted in the medical community, Judge LaBuda said, reasoning further that the effects of the syndrome may require expert testimony to be understood by jurors.

Specifically, terms such as the "cycle of violence" and "learned helplessness" may require expert explanation, and may prove valuable in assessing whether the father's state of mind justified his actions in taking his son's life.

Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen F. Lungen is the prosecutor in the case.

Copyright 1999 NLP IP Company -- American Lawyer Media.