Circuit Court for Wicomico County Case No. C22-CR17-000393
Arthur, Friedman, Raker, Irma S. (Senior Judge, Specially
Latoya Bonte Elzey was convicted by a jury in the Circuit
Court for Wicomico County of voluntary manslaughter,
second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment. Appellant
presents the following questions for our review, which we
have re-ordered as follows:
1. Did the trial court err in instructing the jury that, in
order to consider expert testimony on Battered Spouse
Syndrome, it first had to make a finding that Ms. Elzey
"was a victim of repeated physical and psychological
abuse by the victim"?
2. Did the trial court err in instructing the jury that
Battered Spouse Syndrome is caused by "repeated physical
and psychological abuse by [the] victim," which
in effect precluded the jury from considering expert evidence
as to whether Ms. Elzey suffered from Battered Spouse
Syndrome as a result of abuse in prior relationships?
3. Did the trial court abuse its discretion by entering into
evidence a prejudicial photograph when other photographs more
clearly depicted the relevant information and did not contain
the prejudicial depictions?
4. Did the trial court err in refusing to excuse a juror who
expressed an "ethical dilemma" with disregarding
information that was not in evidence?
5. Could any of the above-described errors, either
individually or cumulatively, have influenced the jury
shall hold that the trial court's Battered Spouse
Syndrome instruction was erroneous and unclear. Accordingly,
we shall reverse and remand for a new trial.
was indicted by the Grand Jury for the Circuit Court for
Wicomico County on charges of first-degree murder,
second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, first-degree
assault, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment.
The jury convicted her of voluntary manslaughter,
second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment. The court
merged the second-degree assault and reckless endangerment
convictions into the voluntary manslaughter conviction for
sentencing purposes and sentenced appellant to a term of
incarceration of ten years for voluntary manslaughter.
22, 2017, appellant and her boyfriend, Migail Hunter, were
fighting in the living room of a friend's home where they
were staying temporarily. As the fight continued, appellant
told Mr. Hunter "don't put your hands on me"
and "I'm tired of you putting your f****** hands on
me," went to the kitchen, and grabbed a knife. The
friend, however, dissuaded appellant from taking the knife
back to the living room. As the fight escalated, appellant
went back to the kitchen and returned with a knife. She told
Mr. Hunter to stay away from her and that she did not want to
use the knife. Undeterred, Mr. Hunter continued to approach
her. Appellant testified that she held the knife loosely in
front of her and turned her head away from Mr. Hunter, at
which point he "lunged forward and stabbed himself in
the chest" or walked into the knife. Although the wound
was just one inch long, one-sixteenth of an inch wide, and
two inches deep, it punctured Mr. Hunter's aorta. He died
central issue at trial was whether appellant acted in
self-defense. Appellant's position was that she acted
reasonably under the circumstances as she experienced them
because she suffered from Battered Spouse Syndrome, sometimes
referred to as Battered Woman's Syndrome. Appellant's
medical psychiatric expert Dr. Neil Blumberg testified,
inter alia, that he found, based on the totality of
appellant's past abusive relationships, that appellant
suffered from Battered Spouse Syndrome. Dr. Blumberg noted
that appellant's relationship with Mr. Hunter was merely
the latest in her long history of abuse.
counsel submitted a proposed jury instruction on Battered
Spouse Syndrome that read as follows:
"If you find, based on the testimony presented, that the
defendant suffered from Battered Woman's Syndrome, you
may consider how the effects of this condition may have
altered the defendant's mental state. Specifically, you
may consider this evidence in deciding whether the defendant
actually believed that she needed to defend herself against
an imminent threat and whether that belief was reasonable
based on all the facts and circumstances as they have been
made known to you by the evidence and the testimony in this
You may consider whether the presence of Battered Woman's
Syndrome altered the defendant's perceptions and beliefs,
including her perceptions and beliefs about the danger of the
threat posed to her and that the danger was imminent.
You must determine the reasonableness of the defendant's
belief and actions based on those beliefs in light of the
circumstances as they appeared to the defendant at the time
of the killing, and as they are evaluated by you now.
Reasonableness is based both on the defendant's beliefs
and on your evaluation as to their reasonableness.
If the defendant presents credible evidence of self-defense,
the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the
defendant did not act in self-defense. If you have a
reasonable doubt as to whether or not the defendant acted in
self-defense, your verdict must be not guilty."
the court instructed the jury using the instruction on
"Self-Defense: Battered Woman Syndrome" in §
8.13(G) of David E. Aaronson, Maryland Criminal Jury
Instructions and Commentary (2014-2015 ed. 2015) as follows:
"Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard evidence that the
Defendant was a victim of repeated physical and psychological
abuse. You have also heard from an expert witness that a
person who is a victim of repeated physical and psychological
abuse by a victim may suffer from a psychological condition
called Battered Spouse Syndrome. You have also heard
expert testimony that the Defendant exhibits the
characteristics consistent with Battered Spouse Syndrome.
You must determine, based upon a consideration of all the
evidence, whether the Defendant was a victim of repeated
physical and psychological abuse by the victim, and if so
whether she suffered from Battered Spouse Syndrome.
If you determine that the Defendant suffered from Battered
Spouse Syndrome then you should consider this evidence for
the purpose of explaining the Defendant's motive or state
of mind, or both, and her beliefs and perceptions at the time
of the commission of the alleged offense in order to
determine whether the requirements of self-defense exist.
Specifically you may consider this evidence in determining:
one, whether the Defendant actually believed in the necessity
to use deadly force to defend herself against imminent or
immediate danger of serious bodily harm or death; two, the
reasonableness of the Defendant's belief that she was in
imminent or immediate danger of serious physical harm or
death. In assessing reasonableness the issue is whether a
reasonable person in the Defendant's circumstances would
have perceived or seen a threat of serious physical harm or
death. Three, the reasonableness of the force used by the
Defendant in response to the perceived threat; and four, in
evaluating the believability or credibility of the
Evidence of Battered Spouse Syndrome is not in itself a
defense to the crime of murder in the first and second
degree, assault in the first and second degree and reckless
endangerment. It has been admitted to assist you in
determining whether the ...