Expert Article Library

State of Mind in Domestic Violence Case

Case Name: United States v. Keshia Cherie Ashford Dixon (http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/04/04-10250-CR0.wpd.pdf)

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District; on appeal from Northern District of Texas

Date: June 20, 2005

Type of expert: Behavior Sciences--Domestic Violence. Dr. Toby Myers, domestic violence expert

Issue: Can the court exclude expert testimony if it does not specifically address the issue in dispute?

Summary of case: Defendant was convicted of a series of federal firearms violations. In her defense, she claimed that due to battered woman’s syndrome, she was under duress to buy the guns for her abusive boyfriend, who accompanied her during her purchase of the guns.

Role of the expert: The expert testified to Defendant’s state of mind and her heightened sense of fear and subjective vulnerability to coercion.

Expert analysis: The Court ruled that Defendant’s state of mind was irrelevant because in a duress defense argument, the question is simply whether a person “of reasonable firmness” would believe that the defendant had no other choice than to commit a crime—an objective standard. In this case, the fact that Defendant was afraid of her boyfriend (her subjective state of mind) did not excuse her illegal actions and a person “of reasonable firmness” objectively would not have bought guns illegally in the same situation.

Summary prepared by J. Baik, Student, University of San Francisco School of Law