Although some people have the option of going to the police after receiving threats on their lives, this was not the case for Deborah Riker: Deborah is a battered woman. Since age nine, Deborah suffered repeated torture and abuse at the hands of men who were in her life. In 1987, Deborah met Rupert Burke, a man who abused both women and drugs. When Burke threatened both Deborah and her sister, Deborah did what he told her to do: she soldhim cocaine. As a result, Deborah was charged with delivery and possession of cocaine. Deborah's case presented the classic defense of duress, but she was not allowed to introduce evidence to adequately support this defense. Although Washington courts admit battered woman syndrome (BWS) testimony in cases where a battered woman's state of mind is at issue, in State v. Riker, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the trial court's refusal to admit this evidence to support Deborah's defense of duress. This Note argues that prior Washington case law, current literature on the BWS, and proper application of evidence rules with regard to expert testimony mandate that courts admit BWS testimony where the defendant claims a defense of duress, regardless of the factual context in which the duress occurred. Because of the Riker court's result-oriented approach, the erroneous decision will adversely impact criminal defendants for years to come.
Ann-Marie Montgomery, State v. Riker, Battered Women Under Duress: The Concept the Washington Supreme Court Could Not Grasp, 19 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 385 (1996).