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Battered Woman Syndrome

Battered woman syndrome was first proposed in the 1970s. The syndrome was based upon clinical observations by a researcher of the effect of severe abuse and battery on a woman. Battered woman syndrome is a pattern of psychological and behavioral symptoms found in a woman living in an abusive relationship. In some states, the battered woman syndrome concept caught on as a justification defense for a claim of self-defense in homicide trials. The woman would claim that due to severe abuse and battery she suffered from the battered woman syndrome and that justified the killing of her spouse or other significant other on the basis of self-defense.

General Characteristics of a Battered Woman

There are several characteristics of a woman suffering from battered woman syndrome. Those characteristics include a woman that:


    • Believes the violence is her fault.


    • Does not place the responsibility of violence on the batterer.


    • Fears for her life and the lives of her children.


  • Has a sense of helplessness and a “trapped” feeling.


Labeling a Woman as a Battered Woman

In order for a woman to be labeled as battered with respect to the battered woman syndrome, the woman must have experienced at least two cycles of battery. Most jurisdictions that recognize battered woman syndrome as a defense require that the woman be threatened by imminent force or death as a prerequisite for claiming self-defense based upon the battered woman syndrome.

Battered Woman Syndrome During Trial

If the jurisdiction permits the assertion of the battered woman syndrome as a basis for justifying a homicide in self-defense, the defendant will most likely be required to undergo a psychological evaluation. Some jurisdictions also require a medical examination. The defendant may also present expert testimony to support her contention that she was a victim of severe abuse on more than two occasions. Further, the defendant may also present witness testimony that would support her assertion that she was battered in her relationship.

Future of Battered Woman Syndrome

Some jurisdictions do not recognize battered woman syndrome as a viable justification for a self-defense killing. Other jurisdictions that do currently recognize battered woman syndrome as a justification for self-defense are requiring more strict standards prior to accepting the woman’s claim of battered woman syndrome. In fact, some jurisdictions that had previously accepted battered woman syndrome as a justification for a self-defense killing are no longer accepting that as a justification basis.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.


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