We're studying exculpation in my criminal law class, which means things like self-defense and insanity. For some reason the cases involving exculpation are significantly more controversial than previous cases. We began with the Goetz case, in which a middle-aged white guy shot and severely wounded four black youths on a New York subway in the 1980s. Acquitted of attempted homicide charges. (1)
Next up was a longish unit on battered woman syndrome, which included numerous detailed accounts of vicious domestic violence and patterned abuse resulting the wives killing their husbands, and pretty consistently being convicted even when juries were presented with expert testimony regarding BWS. (2)
Call me crazy, but I assumed that the class discussions for both of these cases would be heated, emotional, insubstantial, and all around entertaining. My first disappointment was with the Goetz discussion. Nobody really seemed to care about it. Then I realized that there are no black people in my class.
All right, fine, but a good 48% of the class are women, and over 1/6 of them went to Berkeley. So I expected the battered women stuff to raise some ire. Again, painfully calm. A few latent feminists piped up but were summarily and gently swatted down by the professor.
Tomorrow will be the test. For tomorrow, in the context of the "necessity" defense, we discuss Public Committee Against Torture v. State of Israel. Ooh, baby.
(1) This case was turned into an episode of Law & Order, but the racial element was more or less devoured by a gender element by turning the middle-aged white guy into a young white woman, and turning the request for money into a sexual comment.
(2) The chapter on BWS was my favorite so far, because it had an actual punchline. The book sets you up with all these appalling accounts of men abusing women and women being convicted after killing them, and you think that's really terrible, and then it ends with a comment by a law professor to the effect of, "We have enough trouble getting people on board with the death penalty, which is killing someone after a lengthy court trial, let alone allowing a woman to try, convict, sentence, and execute her husband in her living room."