Dateline: May, 2007, Issue 1

What are jurors' attitudes toward battered women who kill?

Jurors have expectations about battered women who kill, and their verdicts are influenced by the extent to which a defendant matches or deviates from those expectations.

Russell (1999) found that jurors expect a battered woman to exhibit certain physical, social, behavioral and psychological characteristics:

At trial, jurors judge defendants using these expectations.

Russell and Melillo (2006) examined how jurors' expectations about the prototypical battered woman influenced verdicts when a woman was either passive in response to being abused (never aggressing against her abuser) or was active (having fought back against her abuser on previous occasions). Defendants most likely to receive verdicts of not guilty matched jurors' expectations about a prototypical battered woman and had passive response histories of never aggressing against the abusive husband. Defendants most likely to receive guilty verdicts deviated from jurors' expectations about the prototypical battered woman (e.g., in her 50s, rested, strong, working, no children, blaming husband, not appearing fearful, etc.) and had an active response history of having fought back on previous occasions. On the whole, male jurors were more likely than female jurors to render guilty verdicts.

The more a defendant matches jurors' expectations about the prototypical battered woman, and the more that woman was passive in response to the abuse, the less likely she is to be found guilty by jurors.

Source Russell, B. L. (1999). Attitudes toward battered women who kill: Prototypes and counterfactual thinking in judgments of culpability. Dissertation Abstracts International, 60, p. 8B.

Source Russell, B. L.. & Melillo, L. S. (2006). Attitudes toward battered women who kill: Defendant typicality and judgments of culpability. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 33, pp. 219-241.