Joanne Brennan, the former tax collector for South Amboy, N.J., is awaiting trial on charges of embezzling $266,000. Yesterday, her lawyer told the New Jersey Supreme Court she did it under duress from her abusive, drug-addicted son, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. A lawyer for another defendant, B.H., said she had sex with her 7-year-old stepson because she felt coerced by her abusive husband.
Attorneys in both cases urged the court to expand the circumstances in which the “battered women’s defense” can be used on behalf of a woman accused of a crime. Prosecutors argued that battered women’s syndrome, now used to explain why a woman kills a man who has abused her for years, should not be extended to excuse crimes against innocent third parties. Lower courts have sided with the defendants. A trial judge ruled Brennan may claim duress, while an appeals court overturned B.H.’s conviction. Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Simon Rosenbach warned that if the justices allow Brennan to claim duress, they will “open the floodgates” to similar defenses by others. He said duress is a defense only if “a person of reasonable firmness” would have been pressured into crime and that Brennan, who sent checks to her son in Florida, does not meet that test.