CRVAW Faculty Journal Articles


Factors Predicting Verdicts in Cases Where Battered Women Kill Their Husbands


This study tested factors influencing verdicts in legal cases involving battered women who kill their husbands. A total of 388 college students (213 females and 175 males) read a fictitious but prototypical legal case. Subjects received one of three stories varying the level of force used by the husband against the wife before she killed him. Half of the subjects received courtroom testimony regarding the Battered Woman Syndrome. One-half received judge's instructions ofnot guilty by reason of selfdefense (NGRSD), and the other half receivednot guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) instructions. Subjects decided on a verdict and completed a questionnaire including demographics, reasons for their verdicts, and relevant attitudinal measures. Judge's instructions were most predictive of verdicts, with NGRSD being more likely to produce not guilty verdicts. Verdicts were also influenced by the subject's view of the severity of the past beatings, the testimony of the expert witness, the subject's feelings about the woman using a weapon, race of the subject, the subject's own history of abuse, attitudes toward abuse in relationships, and the subject's belief that people are responsible even if provoked. The preference the subjects showed for NGRSD belies the commonly held belief that impaired mental defenses in these cases would be more likely to yield not guilty verdicts. Situational aspects of the case rather than long-standing attitudes of subjects appeared to be better predictors of verdicts.

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Dr. Diane Follingstad had not been a faculty member of the University of Kentucky at the time of publication.

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