U.S. v. Dominique Stephens
A woman admits to shooting and killing her husband and is charged with first degree murder. She asserts that she acted in self-defense after suffering years of severe physical and emotional abuse. (This is an updated version of U.S. v. Martha Monroe)
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IN THE SUPERIOR COURT
OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Criminal Case No.:
On June 17, 2009, at 10:32 p.m., a call was received at the 911 dispatch center of the Metropolitan Police Department in New Columbia. The female caller said, "I just shot my husband," and gave the address as 1799 Lamont Street, N.W. Detective Dana Hughes responded to the call and reached the house at 10:38 p.m.
Detective Hughes met Dominique Stephens at the door. Mrs. Stephens led the Detective to a bedroom upstairs. When Detective Hughes entered the bedroom, he saw a fully clothed man, later identified as Donovan Stephens, Dominique Stephens's husband, lying face down on the bed covered with a light blanket. The blanket had three bullet holes in it, and several blood stains.
Detective Hughes ascertained that the man on the bed was dead, and asked Mrs. Stephens who he was and what had happened. She responded "I shot my husband," and pointed to a pistol which lay on the dresser near the bed. Detective Hughes read Mrs. Stephens her Miranda rights, and placed her under arrest.
Later, at the station, Mrs. Stephens waived her right to counsel and to remain silent. Detective Hughes questioned her, after which Detective Hughes wrote up a statement. Mrs. Stephens signed it. The prosecution charges Mrs. Stephens with the First Degree Murder of her husband, Donovan Stephens.
Dominique Stephens admits that she shot her husband, but now, through her attorney, asserts that the she acted in self defense. Mrs. Stephens now claims that for the entire time of her marriage to Donovan Stephens she has been the victim of severe and continual physical and emotional abuse from him; she says the last time he beat her, he almost killed her. She claims that because of this continued abuse, she is suffering from battered woman syndrome, and that she shot her husband because she had a reasonable belief that even though her husband was asleep, her life was in imminent danger. She claims she had no choice but to kill him. In order to prove battered women syndrome the defense must prove the presence of severe and frequent physical and emotional abuse, leading to a condition of learned helplessness. Symptoms of learned helplessness can include financial dependence on the batterer, forced isolation from family and friends, and extreme fear of retaliation if escape is attempted. Battered Woman Syndrome is a condition that has been recognized fairly recently in the law as a way to help prove that a defendant acted in self defense. The syndrome occurs in women who have been subjected to lengthy periods of abuse from their husbands or boyfriends. The abuse is often life-threatening, and usually increases in severity and frequency. A woman in such a situation tries to figure out what the cause of the abuse is (is it something she has done?) and what she can do to prevent it. Over a period of time, she realizes that the battering is
Developed by Georgetown University Law Center, D.C. Street Law Clinic
unpredictable, and can be triggered by anything or nothing. There is no way she can tell when the next beating will occur, or how to prevent it, although she may try everything she can think of. This unpredictability of the situation leads to the...
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