Hernandez v. Ashcroft: A Construction of “Extreme Cruelty” Under the Violence Against Women Act and Its Potential Impact on Immigration and Domestic Violence Law
Alexandra Blake Flamme
In June of 1985, Judy Norman shot and killed her husband while he slept. For the previous twenty years, he subjected his wife to serious physical and mental abuse. He beat her almost every day with anything that was nearby (fly swatter, fist, shoe, baseball bat), put cigarettes out on her skin, smashed glasses on her head, threw hot coffee on her, and smeared food in her face. In addition, he forced Judy to prostitute herself, eat dog food out of the dog’s bowl, and sleep on the concrete floor. He called her a “dog” and a “whore,” and frequently threatened to kill her or cut her heart out. Police had been dispatched to their home on numerous occasions, including the day of the killing because Judy’s husband had been assaulting her the entire day. At her trial for first-degree murder, the judge refused to issue a self-defense instruction, and Judy Norman was convicted.
As this case illustrates, the term “domestic violence” does not fully represent the harm it inflicts. Many people today—lay persons and legal professionals alike—do not understand the dynamics or consequences of domestic violence. For instance, in response to hearing Judy Norman’s story, many would ask, “Why didn’t she just leave?” The answer to that question is not easy to come by, and is beyond the scope of this Comment. The more appropriate and productive question is, “What can the legal system do to prevent this type of thing from happening?” In recent years, the legal system has done much to prevent domestic violence and to keep its victims safe. However, new directions are still possible.