Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Introducing The Battered Woman Syndrome As A Murder Defense

Battered Woman Syndrome is a theory developed in the mid 1970's that is now associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The law prior to this time did not recognize the reasonableness of a battered woman's use of force when she killed her abuser.  To explain the experiences of a battered woman and why her actions in self-defense are justified, scholars developed Battered Woman Syndrome.  Early on, this evidence was not admitted.  Despite questions about this disorder's validity, it become admissible.  Many critics called for an end to expert testimony on BWS because it began to take form of an excuse rather than justification.  BWS is similar to an insanity plea and is purely a legal term.  It is used to describe the severe psychological trauma caused by domestic abuse.  It refers to the constant and severe physical abuse or threats of physical abuse by a partner.  The victim may be unable to take action to escape.  Her fears are real because  she may lack the social support, financial means or may be too physically or emotionally disabled to survive on her own.  Victims may have severe depression, low self-esteem or suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. They are often led to believe that the abuse is their fault and that they deserved it.  The abused may be unwilling to press charges against their abuser because of misplaced loyalty or fear of retaliation.  Most in the medical profession feel that this abuse often results in PTSD.  The law makes reference to this as a psychological condition but it is not currently listed in medical guides.  Using the Battered Woman Syndrome as a defense in court is controversial because BWS has not been accepted nor established in the field of psychology by what the opposed feel as serious or rigorous researchers.  It is felt that there is no reliable means to identify those who suffer from BWS and from those who just claim it as a legal defense.  The opposed feel that BWS only exists to justify and support the claims of battered women who have killed.  It is the product of legal advocates, not science.  There are no uniform standards across the United States for this defense.  Each state is allowed to make its own decisions regarding whether Battered Woman Syndrome is admissible as a criminal defense.  Each state sets its own criteria for judging a woman's mental state and allowing expert testimony.  The states that allow the BWS in courts have recognized that domestic violence is a prevalent threat and that violence against an abuser is out of the control of a normally rational person.  Usually there is some leniency and eventually treatment of the illness can be provided.  Those states which do not allow the use of BWS in court, do not recognize the affects an abusive relationship has on a person and her ability to leave that relationship.  Here victims of domestic violence are held responsible for their actions as any other person charged with murder or assault.

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