Published on: Monday, August 2, 2021

A defendant facing gun and robbery charges should have been allowed to present evidence that she was battered by her boyfriend and the effects that alleged abuse had on her ability to avoid committing crimes at his behest, the Seventh Circuit held (article available here). 

Marjory Dingwall was allegedly living with and was regularly abused by her boyfriend when he gave her a gun and told her to rob a gas station while he stayed outside. The next day, after receiving a threatening text from her boyfriend, Dingwall committed another robbery while he was at work and gave him the money, according to the court.

Two days later, her boyfriend called from work yelling at her that he needed more money and she robbed another gas station without him.

Dingwall asserted a duress defense and filed a pretrial motion seeking to present expert testimony explaining battering and its effects to the jury. After the court denied her, she pleaded guilty but reserved her right to appeal.

The duress defense requires a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious injury and the absence of reasonable alternatives to committing the crime, the Circuit held.  Contrary to the district court’s holding, immediate physical presence of the threat is not always essential to a duress defense. Also, “expert evidence of battering and its effects may be permitted to support a duress defense because it may inform the jury how an objectively reasonable person under the defendant’s circumstances might behave.”