Domestic violence is and continues to be a problem in the United States.[1] There has been substantial research conducted on the Battered Spouse syndrome and the effects that domestic violence has on the mental state of victims.[2] While in some cases victims leave their abusers, others have hired hit men to deal with their abusers for them.[3] This concept of hiring a person to harm or kill one’s abuser is a topic that courts have struggled with and Maryland courts are no exception.

In Porter v. State, the defendant, Karla Porter (“Porter”), hired a hit man to kill her husband who allegedly physically and emotionally abused her throughout the course of their marriage.[4] On March 1, 2010, Porter told her husband, Ray Porter (“Ray”) that an alarm went off at the gas station which the couple owned.[5] When Ray went to the gas station and was shot and killed. Immediately after, Porter called the police and informed them that her husband was killed in the midst of a robbery.[6] After an investigation, Porter was arrested for her role in Ray’s death. Porter later confessed that she contracted Walter Bishop to “beat up” her husband because she believed that her husband was going to kill her.[7] Porter was charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and use of a handgun in the commission of a violent crime. [8]

At trial, Porter testified to numerous instances where her husband, Ray Porter (“Ray”), physically and verbally abused her.[9] Additionally, two expert witnesses testified with regard to Porter’s mental state at the time of the murder.[10] At the conclusion of trial, Porter proposed that a self-defense jury instruction be given to the jury which the State objected to.[11] The lower court provided an imperfect self-defense instruction that was provided by the State to jurors.[12] Porter was ultimately convicted of the offenses and requested a new hearing on the grounds that the jury was not properly instructed on batter spouse syndrome and how to consider this in regards to imperfect self-defense.[13] The trial court denied the motion and Porter appealed.[14]

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that Porter did not provide sufficient evidence which would entitle her to an imperfect self-defense instruction.[15] The court further held that any error related to the inclusion of the instruction was harmless.[16] Porter appealed again and the Court of Appeals of Maryland granted certiorari.[17] On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that there was no reason to “distinguish contract killings from other forms of non-confrontational defensive action.”[18] The Court of Appeals of Maryland further held that the improper jury instruction was not a harmless error and reversed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals and remanded the case for a new trial.[19]

    1. Kit Kinports, Defending Battered Women’s Self–Defense Claims, 67 Or. L. Rev. 393 (1988); See also, Intimate Partner, 1993-2010, Violence, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ipv9310.pdf
    2. See Lenore E. Walker, Battered Women Syndrome and Self–Defense, 6 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol’y 321, 327 (1992).
    3. See, State v. Martin, 666 S.W.2d 895, 899 (Mo. Ct. App. 1984).
    4. Porter v. State, 2017 WL 3380943, at *2 (Md. Aug 7, 2017).
    5. Id.
    6. Id.
    7. Id.
    8. Id.
    9. Id.
    10. Porter, 2017 WL 3380943, at *2.
    11. Id. at *3.
    12. Id.
    13. Id. at *4
    14. Id.
    15. Id.
    16. Porter, 2017 WL 3380943, at *4.
    17. Id.
    18. Id.
    19. Id. at *15

    Makeda Curbeam is a third year evening student at the University of Baltimore School of Law. She serves as a staff editor for the UB Law Forum. Her interests include family law and juvenile justice. She can be reached at Makeda.curbeam@ubalt.edu. You can view her linkedin account here.

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