May 25, 2007

Battered Women's Syndrome gaining acceptance

The Battered Women’s Syndrome is gaining acceptance from judges and jurors, according to an article in the May 21 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

The controversial defense combines elements of self-defense and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder to explain why some women ultimately kill an abusive partner.

In jurisdictions where the defense is allowed, defendants can present jurors with specific instances of prior victimization to show self-defense or the lack of criminal intent necessary for certain convictions. The defense also enables attorneys to answer the question that is often paramount in jurors’ minds: Why didn't the woman simply leave?

The 2000 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision of Commonwealth v. Pike described the syndrome as a mental state common to women who are abused over an extended period. "Numbed by a dread of imminent aggression, these women are unable to think clearly about the means of escape from this abusive family existence," the decision states.

The defense can pose a major obstacle to prosecution by engendering sympathy for the defendant, according to the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article.

The full article, authored by David E. Frank, is available at the journal’s website,