The Battered Child Syndrome Defense in New Jersey

As recently reported, there is currently a case being heard in our courts involving the tragic case of a son, John Mahoney, who shot and killed his father, Jerry Mahoney, a 49 year old veteran of the police department. John, 19 at the time of the incident, is claiming self defense – specifically battered child syndrome.

In order to use deadly force in New Jersey, the defendant must prove that they reasonably believed it was immediately necessary to prevent serious injury or death. The issue that arises with this subset of self defense is often times the timeline between the act of being threatened, and the use of force. A typical case of self-defense could involve an assailant pointing a gun at you, and you immediately use deadly force to protect yourself. These cases often involve allegations of abuse over time, and the use of force to protect against a deadly threat that will come in the future.

The ‘battered person’ defense has taken time to be accepted by our legal system. One of the first legal cases on the subject was heard in New Jersey in 1980. Gladys Kelly stabbed her husband to death after allegedly suffering years of abuse. While the lower courts would not consider evidence of her abuse, the state Supreme Court in 1984 ruled that such testimony needed to be introduced at trial.

Arguably the most famous battered person case was that of the Menendez brothers, two Princeton natives who shot and killed their parents. While they were eventually convicted of murder, evidence of their physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their parents was utilized at trial.

Finally, in the trial of Andrew Janes – a 17 year old who killed his stepfather, expert testimony about battered-child syndrome was introduced for the first time nationally. His attorney was able to successfully utilize this evidence for a more favorable outcome at trial.

Battered Person’s defenses are difficult to address. There is a careful balance that must be done in deciding these cases. We are aware, of course, that there is a murder. Whether it was justifiable truly hinges on questions that are difficult, if not impossible to prove – was there actually an immediate threat; could the person abused have fled; what was the level of the abuse.

As of February 16, 2015, John Mahoney’s case is still before the courts. What is certain is that the defense team will have an uphill battle proving that John was justified in killing his father. This is made even more challenging because it does not appear from the evidence that Mr. Mahoney abused his son substantially, if at all.

If you have been accused of a crime, you need a dedicated team of attorneys to assist you. Call us for a free consultation at 888-815-3649.

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