Medina County Courthouse

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Defendant Asserting Battered Woman Defense Is Subject to Exam by State's Expert, But Trial Testimony Limited

New Trial Ordered in 2006 Lawrence County Murder Case

State v. Goff, Slip Opinion No. 2010-Ohio-6317.
Lawrence App. No. 07CA17, 2009-Ohio-4914. Judgment of the court of appeals reversed, and cause remanded to the trial court.
Brown, C.J., and Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, Lanzinger, and Cupp, JJ., concur.
O'Donnell, J., concurs in judgment.

(Dec. 30, 2010) The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that when a criminal defendant indicates intent to introduce expert testimony at trial regarding “battered woman syndrome,” the court may compel the defendant to undergo a psychiatric examination by an expert chosen by the state without violating her right against self-incrimination.

The Court held further, however, that the examination and any subsequent trial testimony by the state’s expert based on the compelled examination of the defendant must be limited to information related to battered-woman syndrome and whether the defendant’s actions were affected by the syndrome.

Applying those holdings to a Lawrence County case, the Court voted 7-0 to vacate the aggravated murder conviction of Megan Goff for the 2006 shooting death of her husband and ordered that she receive a new trial. The Court held that Goff’s constitutional rights were violated when the trial judge allowed the state’s expert to testify about statements Goff made during a compelled psychiatric examination that went beyond battered woman syndrome, and that were used by the state to undermine her credibility. The Court’s lead opinion was written by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer.

After what she described as years of psychological abuse, Goff, who had filed domestic violence charges and obtained a civil protection order against her husband, William Goff, moved out of their marital home along with their two children in January 2006. The report of the sheriff’s officers who responded to the domestic violence complaint indicated that they had removed 63 guns from the house, many of them loaded. After a March 17, 2006 phone conversation with her husband in which she testified he stated he intended to kill her and the children on March 20, Goff testified that she returned to their home the next day to try to “calm him down.” Instead of reducing tensions, Goff testified her husband repeated his threats to kill her and the children.

At 7 p.m. that evening, Goff called 9-1-1 and told police she had shot her husband. She told the 9-1-1 operator that even though her husband was motionless on the floor, she was afraid that he would kill her. Investigators determined that Goff had shot her husband 15 times in the head and upper torso, emptying two guns.

She was charged with aggravated murder. When they learned that Goff’s attorneys planned to assert that she acted in self-defense and would introduce expert testimony at trial about battered woman syndrome, the state asked the court to order Goff to undergo a psychological examination by the state’s expert. Over the objection of Goff’s lawyers, the court ordered her to submit to an examination by the state’s expert, Dr. Phillip Resnick.

At trial, Goff’s expert testified that in his opinion she suffered from battered woman syndrome and believed that her life was in imminent danger at the time she shot her husband. Dr. Resnick testified that he had been unable to form an opinion regarding whether Goff suffered from battered woman syndrome, but over repeated defense objections then recounted a number of statements made by Goff during his compelled examination of her about events surrounding the shooting, pointing out what he characterized as inconsistencies between those statements and Goff’s earlier answers to questions posed by police during their investigation. At the conclusion of evidence, the judge rejected Goff’s claim of self-defense, found her guilty of murder, and sentenced her to a prison term of from 33 years to life.

Goff appealed, arguing that the trial court violated her constitutional right against self-incrimination by compelling her to submit to examination by the state’s expert. She also argued that her due process rights were violated by the trial court’s admission of testimony by the state’s expert that was not limited to questions about her mental state but also asked detailed factual questions about events surrounding the shooting. The 4th District Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s action, holding that by raising the argument that she acted in self-defense and offering expert testimony that she suffered from battered woman syndrome, Goff had waived her right not to answer questions from the state’s psychologist exploring her mental state and her actions allegedly arising from that mental state. Goff sought and was granted Supreme Court review of the 4th District’s decision.

In today’s decision, Justice Pfeifer focused first on Goff’s constitutional challenge to the court order compelling her to be examined by the state’s psychiatric expert. He cited the only other Ohio court decision addressing the same issue, State v. Manning (1991), holdings by the state supreme courts of Florida, New Hampshire and Nevada, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Estelle v. Smith (1981) and Buchanan v. Kentucky (1987). Each of those cases, Justice Pfeifer wrote, support the proposition that a defendant offering expert testimony about his or her mental state must submit to a limited psychiatric examination by an expert acting for the state, and that such an examination does not violate the defendant’s constitutional right against self-incrimination.

“Based on the above authority,” wrote Justice Pfeifer, “we conclude that when a defendant demonstrates an intention to use expert testimony from a psychiatric examination to establish that battered-woman syndrome caused in her ‘a bona fide belief that she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that her only means of escape was the use of force,’ ... i.e., to use testimony on battered-woman syndrome to prove the second element of self-defense, a court may compel the defendant to submit to an examination by another expert without violating the defendant’s rights under Section 10, Article I of the Ohio Constitution and the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. By putting her mental state directly at issue and introducing expert testimony based upon her own statements to the expert, the defendant opens the door to a limited examination by the state’s expert concerning battered-woman syndrome and its effect on the defendant’s behavior. Courts have the inherent authority to preserve fairness in the trial process, and allowing the defendant to present expert testimony on the specific effects of battered-woman syndrome on the defendant while denying the prosecution the ability to introduce such evidence would unfairly handicap the prosecution and prevent the trier of fact from making an informed decision. We thus conclude that the trial court did not err in ordering Resnick’s examination of Goff in this case.”

With regard to the actual testimony of Dr. Resnick at Goff’s trial, however, Justice Pfeifer wrote: “The limitation on a defendant’s bedrock constitutional right against self-incrimination must be carefully tailored to avoid any more infringement than is necessary than to ensure a fair trial. The paramount concern of fairness of the trial requires only that the state be given the same opportunity to present testimony on battered-woman syndrome as the defendant. ... When the expert in Estelle testified as to matters beyond the purpose of the compelled examination, the court found a violation of the defendant’s Fifth Amendment right. The court found that the expert’s ‘role changed and became essentially like that of an agent of the State recounting unwarned statements made in a postarrest custodial setting.’”

“We find that Resnick’s role changed in this case in a manner similar to the expert’s role in Estelle. Psychiatric testimony is one thing—testifying about discrepancies regarding the defendant’s recitation of facts and questioning the truth of her representations regarding her own level of fear are more akin to ‘recounting unwarned statements made in a postarrest custodial setting.’ ... R.C. 2901.06 describes the type of testimony appropriate in a case involving battered-woman syndrome: testimony about the syndrome in general, testimony regarding whether the defendant experienced the syndrome, and testimony concerning whether the syndrome accounts for the requisite belief of imminent danger of death or great bodily harm to justify the use of the force in question. Resnick testified that he was unable to form an opinion on whether Goff was symptomatic of battered-woman syndrome. He thus did not have much to offer as expert testimony on the issue about which he was called to testify. Instead, he testified at length about inconsistencies in statements Goff had made to him compared to other evidence the state had provided him. Armed with over 40 items of evidence provided by the state, he essentially became another cross-examiner of Goff and reported to the court areas where he found her testimony wanting.”

“We conclude that although the trial court did not err in ordering a psychiatric examination of Goff, the examination and subsequent testimony established that Resnick exceeded the boundaries of what was necessary to provide a level playing field between the state and the defense as to expert testimony. Resnick went beyond determining whether Goff suffered from battered-woman syndrome; “his role changed and became essentially like that of an agent of the State recounting unwarned statements made in a postarrest custodial setting.”... As in Estelle, ‘[t]he Fifth Amendment privilege, therefore, is directly involved here because the State used as evidence against respondent the substance of [her] disclosures during the pretrial psychiatric examination,’ and ‘the results of that inquiry were used by the State for a much broader objective that was plainly adverse to respondent.’”

“We therefore find that Resnick’s testimony violated Goff’s right against self-incrimination guaranteed by Section 10, Article I of the Ohio Constitution and the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the matter to the trial court.”

Justice Pfeifer’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice Eric Brown and Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Maureen O’Connor, Judith Ann Lanzinger and Robert R. Cupp.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell entered a separate opinion in which he concurred with the majority’s judgment that Goff’s conviction should be vacated because her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated. He disagreed, however with the majority holding that a court may compel a criminal defendant asserting battered woman syndrome as an element of self-defense to submit to a state-requested psychiatric examination. He noted that the General Assembly has enacted statutes specifically authorizing a defendant to introduce expert testimony relative to battered woman syndrome to establish an element of self-defense (R.C. 2901.06) and to introduce such testimony in support of a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity (R.C. 2945.392), but has authorized the courts to order a psychiatric evaluation of a defendant only in the context of establishing competency or an insanity defense (R.C. 2945.371(A)).

Justice O’Donnell wrote: “Accordingly, the General Assembly could have provided for court ordered state mental examinations in all cases where evidence of battered woman’s syndrome is presented by a defendant, but it chose not do so. ... In my view, the omission of the opportunity for a prosecutor to seek an examination of a defendant asserting battered woman’s syndrome as part of the affirmative defense of self-defense in R.C. 2945.371 indicates legislative intent to limit mental examinations involving battered woman’s syndrome to circumstances involving competency or an insanity defense. Thus, the state should be precluded from obtaining a mental examination in this case because the General Assembly has not authorized such an exam to be conducted.”

James B. Collier Jr., 740.533.4360, for the state and Lawrence County prosecutor's office.

Paula M. Brown, 614.464.2000, for Megan Goff.

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