Spousal Abuse and Preemptive Self-Defense in Illinois

Domestic violence is a complex issue that can negatively affect all Illinois residents. Domestic violence takes place when the abuser, most often a husband, feels entitled to control his partner, most often a wife, by exerting power over her. Usually, one person is the primary abuser, even when the abused spouse occasionally fights back in an attempt to stop the violence or defuse the violent situation.

The question becomes: under Illinois criminal law, can an abused spouse defend herself preemptively against abuse? Or, is lashing out physically always considered domestic violence?

What Happens When an Abused Spouse Uses Self-Defense Preemptively?

Imagine a scenario in which an alcoholic husband with a gambling problem constantly verbally and physically abuses his wife. For 20 years, the husband has had a habit of drinking. After he has two to three drinks, he becomes verbally abusive. After the fifth or sixth drink, like clockwork, he then becomes physically abusive. After 20 long years of enduring this abusive pattern, the wife finally decides one evening to physically attack her husband after the fourth drink, before he has the chance to start hitting her.

If the above scenario plays out and law enforcement gets called to the scene, police officers might arrest the wife for domestic battery. But how could the wife in this scenario be truly at fault for protecting herself and preventing another beating from her husband?

What Does the Research Indicate?

Very little data is available to indicate how often battered women who use violence are motivated by self-defense. One analysis shows that wives were seven times more likely than husbands to have used violence as part of self-defense. Many abused wives who use violence in self-defense feel as though they have exhausted all other resources and do so only as a last resort. Unlike men, women are more likely to use violence for self-defense rather than for control.

Another study reported that 29% of abused women surveyed reported that they had used self-defense violence. The report also concluded that few women who engaged in domestic violence were as violent as their husbands. This indicates that many women are not seeking to assault their husbands, per se, but rather to engage in preemptive self-defense.

Defenses to Battery and Assault Charges

When an abused spouse is charged with assault or battery, making a persuasive defense is essential. The idea of mutual combat is becoming more common in domestic violence cases. The idea is that when both spouses or partners have committed battery on each other, the proper punishment should be individualized counseling or another form of mitigated punishment, rather than jail time. Our lawyers fight hard to negotiate with prosecutors and convince them to dismiss our clients’ charges.

Many times, when we can prove that the defendant suffered years of verbal and physical abuse, prosecutors are more likely to negotiate. We can present evidence that the action took place as self-defense by using physical evidence and witness testimony at trial. If you are an abused spouse who is facing criminal charges for assault or battery, Glasgow & Olsson can help. Contact our criminal defense lawyers today to schedule your initial consultation.

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