As I have discussed previously, I have participated for years in a program to help train lawyers and judges in dealing with cases involving the “cultural defense” where a defendant claims a tradition or religious practice as a mitigating factor or even an outright defense to crimes or civil claims. We have a new case involving such a claim in Brooklyn after Noor Hussain, 75, beat his wife to death. He insisted that such beatings are considering appropriate under Pakistani culture. We have previously discussed (here and here). Islamic clerics who have defended wife beating as permitted and even recommended under Islamic teachings. In this case, Hussain was reportedly upset because his wife, Nazar Hussain, 66, failed to make him a goat meat dinner that he preferred.
Hussain reportedly was outraged when his wife made him a vegetarian dinner rather than goat meat. He is accused of beating her to death with a stick — leaving what prosecutor’s described as a “bloody mess.” His defense counsel Julie Clark admits that Hussain beat his wife but argued that such beatings are customary in Pakistan. In her opening statement, Clark argued that “He comes from a culture where he thinks this is appropriate conduct, where he can hit his wife. He culturally believed he had the right to hit his wife and discipline his wife.”
Prosecutors note however that the wife was attacked as she lay in her bed and was left with deep wounds to her head, arms and shoulders — injuries causing a brain hemorrhage.
I have long drawn the line in the use of the cultural defense on such violent acts. However, there remain troubling outliers in the cases. In January 1985, Japanese immigrant Fumiko Kimura tried to commit oyako-shinju (or parent-child suicide) after learning of her husband’s infidelity. She walked her infant daughter and 4-year-old son in the frigid ocean off Santa Monica. The children drowned but she was rescued. While she had lived in the United States for some 14 years, she claimed the cultural defense (even though oyako-shinju is illegal in Japan). She was successful. Kimura received just one year in jail and five years’ probation. She then reunited with her husband.
The Brooklyn case represents a clear case in my view where the cultural defense should not be successful and I expect that it will not be successful. While such defenses in criminal cases can be considered as mitigating factors at sentencing, I do not see its applicability at either the guilt or sentencing stages. Both spousal abuse and of course murder are illegal in this country. The cultural defense should not be a license to suspend laws that conflict with your personal cultural or religious predilections. It is more relevant on issues of intent or scienter in some crimes.
Of course, Hussain can still claim that he never intended to kill his wife. However, that is a factual rather than a cultural dispute.
Source: NY Post