Thursday, January 30, 2003
Admission of Battered Women’s Syndrome Testimony Based on Single Incident Upheld by C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge did not abuse her discretion by admitting expert testimony regarding battered women’s syndrome against a defendant who had not been accused of abusing women prior to the incident in question, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
A divided panel in Div. Six Tuesday said Cornell Cooper Brown was properly convicted on charges of making a terrorist threat, false imprisonment by violence, and misdemeanor battery on a domestic partner. Justice Kenneth Yegan authored the unpublished opinion, which was joined by Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert, while Justice Steven Perren dissented.
Brown, found by the trial court to have served four prior prison terms and to be a second-strike offender under the Three-Strikes Law, was sentenced to 10 years, eight months in prison by Judge Pamela Rogers, who has since retired.
The Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to 10 years, finding that an eight-month consecutive term for false imprisonment constituted multiple punishment for the same crime, since it was part of the same course of conduct resulting in the terrorist-threat conviction, but otherwise affirmed.
Brown was arrested in April 2001 after a fight with Kimberly Pipes, who testified she had been dating him “on and off” for 11 years. She testified that she was lying when she told police he had pointed a knife and fork at her and threatened to cut her with the knife.
She told the jury that Brown had hit her in the stomach, but that she was not hurt and in no danger when she dialed 911. She made the emergency call, she said, only because she was angry.
She also testified Brown had never hit her before.
The deputy sheriff who responded to the 911 call said Pipes had told him a much different story. Pipes, he testified, said that Brown “grabbed her by the neck” and “dragged her into the master bedroom,” where he “threw her on the bed.”
She said he had a steak knife in one hand and a barbecue fork in the other, and threatened to cut her if she left. He said “I don’t want you having my baby”—Pipes thought she was pregnant at the time—then punched her in the stomach, “grabbed [Pipes] by the neck again and threw her on the bed and held her down, prevent[ing] her from leaving,” the deputy testified.
He added that Pipes appeared to be “very afraid of him” and complained of pain in her abdomen.
The BWS expert, Jeri Darr, said that the changes in Pipes’ story were typical of battered women. “It’s been estimated in research within the domestic violence field . . . that a victim will leave and return to her abuser on the average of three to five times before [she] decide[s] to separate permanently . . .,” she testified.
BWS victims, she added, typically hope that things will get better and that they will be able to recoup the emotional investment in their relationships. As a result, Darr testified, 80 to 85 percent of them will recant their statements at some point in the process, even if they have been seriously and visibly injured.
Rogers did not err in admitting the testimony, Yegan said, because the statute on BWS testimony, Evidence Code Sec. 1107 makes no distinction between victims of a single incident and victims of multiple incidents, and because the testimony was relevant under the circumstances of the case.
Darr’s testimony, he went on to reason, was relevant to explain the discrepancies between Pipes’ testimony and her statements to the deputy sheriff, and to explain how it was possible for a woman who had not been battered before to suffer from the syndrome.
Perren argued in dissent that the BWS testimony should have been excluded as irrelevant. “I conclude... that a proper foundation for the admission of BWS evidence requires that the proponent demonstrate psychological or physical abuse over a period of time,” he wrote, citing a 1999 Court of Appeal opinion.
Attorneys on appeal were William D. Farber, by appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorney General John Yang for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Brown, B153455.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company