Repetitive physical and psychological abuse can prompt people to commit violence against their tormentors. In this case, the defendant may claim abuse defense. An example of this is the Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS), a mental condition associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is currently admissible in most states, including Virginia. One of the best known landmark cases which have employed BWS defense was that of Francine Hughes, who after 14 years of being battered mercilessly, burned her drunk husband to death while asleep on March 9, 1977. The jury’s verdict: not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.
Battered Woman Syndrome is a medically recognized behavioral condition wherein women suffering from physical and emotional abuse stays in the relationship despite suffering from repeated violence by a spouse or boyfriend. According to an Everydayhealth.com article, here are common reasons why women remain in the abusive relationship:
- Losing support for herself and/or her children
- An upbringing that conditioned to look for the “good” in her partner
- Believing the relationship can get back to how it was before
- Low self-esteem, believing she deserves the beating
- Fear of heightened abuse with attempt to leave
After enduring constant and severe battering, a woman feels that the only way to save herself is to commit violence against her partner. In some cases, she may have gone insane during the time of the killing. According to a criminal lawyer from Salem, BWS evidence may be offered to assist the jury in determining the guilt or innocence based on self-defense and insanity claims. Typically, the defendant is required to prove the following:
- There was an imminent danger of physical harm or death;
- She had the reasonable belief that she would be harmed;
- She justifiably responded to the threat
For BWS defense to prevail, the defendant must be able to show that she was about to get seriously injured, killed or touched in a harmful way. For example, if her partner had only threatened to harm or kill her during a quarrel, it would be difficult to substantiate self-defense had she killed him hours after the threat was announced and while in his sleep. However, if sufficient evidence is shown that she had suffered repeated and severe abuse, it may show that she did have reason to think that she would be harmed. Nonetheless, if the jury deems acquittal not reasonable, her culpability and penalties could be reduced instead.
If a loved one or a friend in Salem is facing a charge for intimate partner homicide yet you believe that she was also a victim of domestic violence, seek help from a reputable criminal law firm like Schottmiller Law.
Battered Woman Syndrome as a Legal Defense, Criminal Justice
Battered Woman Syndrome, Cornell University Law School