Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 251–267 | Cite as

Reputation and behavior of battered women who kill their partners: Do these variables negate self-defense?

  • Diane R. Follingstad
  • Michael J. Brondino
  • Kathryn J. Kleinfelter


Vignettes describing a case in which a battered woman killed her husband were presented to college students. Independent variables were the presence or absence of verbal aggression by the woman toward her husband before the final beating, the woman's reputation and social desirability as a wife and mother, and whether or not a weapon was present when the battering husband threatened the woman before she killed him. After reading a vignette, subjects (N=413) selected a verdict, reported what influenced their verdicts, and completed attitudinal measures on sex-role attitudes, attitudes toward wife-beating, and “just world” attitudes. The presence of verbal aggression by the woman increased the odds of subjects choosing a guilty verdict by 1.71 times compared to the absence of verbal aggression. A defendant characterized as a “bad” wife/mother or a dysfunctional wife/mother was, respectively, 6.24 and 2.49 times more likely to be found guilty rather than not guilty by reason of self-defense (NGRSD) than the “good” wife/mother. Use of a weapon by the husband did not significantly increase the number of NGRSD verdicts over conditions in which no weapon was present. Neither subjects' attitudes nor demographics appeared to be related to their choice of verdicts.

Key Words

battered women defendants jury behavior 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aronson, E., Brewer, M., and Carlsmith, J. M. (1985). Experimentation in social psychology. In Lindzey, G., and Aronson, E. (eds.),Handbook of Social Psychology (third edition), Random House, New York, Vol. 1, pp. 441–486.Google Scholar
  2. Aubrey, M., and Ewing, C. P. (1989). Student and voter subjects: Differences in attitudes toward battered women.J. Interpers. Viol. 4: 289–297.Google Scholar
  3. Crowne, D. B., and Marlowe, D. (1960). A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology.J. Consult. Psychol. 24: 349–354.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Dodge, M., and Greene, E. (1991). Juror and expert conceptions of battered women.Viol. Vict. 6: 271–282.Google Scholar
  5. Dwyer, J. H. (1983).Statistical Models for the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Ewing, C. P. (1987).Battered Women Who Kill, Lexington, Toronto.Google Scholar
  7. Ewing, C. P., and Aubrey, M. (1987). Battered women and public opinion: Some realities about the myths.J. Fam. Viol. 2: 257–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Finkel, N. J. and Handel, S. F. (1988). Jurors and insanity: Do test instructions instruct?Forensic Rep. 1: 65–79.Google Scholar
  9. Finkel, N. J., and Handel, S. F. (1989). How jurors construe “insanity”.Law Hum. Behav. 13: 41–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fulero, M., & Finkel, N.J. (1991). Barring ultimate issue testimony: An “insane” rule?Law Hum. Behav. 15: 495–507.Google Scholar
  11. Fiora-Gormally, N. (1978). Battered women who kill: Double standard out of court, single standard in?Law Hum. Behav. 2: 133–165.Google Scholar
  12. Fiske, S. T., and Taylor, S. E. (1984).Social Cognition, Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., Reading, MA.Google Scholar
  13. Follingstad, D. R., Polek, D. S., Hause, E. S., Deaton, L. H., Bulger, M. W., and Conway, Z. D. (1989). Factors predicting verdicts in cases where battered women kill their husbands.Law Hum. Behav. 13: 253–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gillespie, C. K. (1989).Justifiable Homicide, Ohio State University Press, Columbus, OH.Google Scholar
  15. Greene, E., Raitz, A., and Lindblad, H. (1989). Jurors' knowledge of battered women.J. Fam. Viol. 4: 105–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heider, F. (1958).The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  17. Hinkle, A. L., Smeltzer, D. J., Allen, C. A., and King, G. D. (1983). The judgment of college students and jurors concerning sanity and guilt of an alleged murderer.J. Social Psychol. 120: 253–257.Google Scholar
  18. Jenkins, P., and Davidson, B. (1990). Battered women in the criminal justice system: An analysis of gender stereotypes.Behav. Sci. Law 8: 161–170.Google Scholar
  19. Kalmuss, D. (1979). The attribution of responsibility in a wife-abuse context.Victimol. Internat. J. 4: 284–291.Google Scholar
  20. Kasian, M., Spanos, N. P., Terrance, C. A., and Peebles, S. (1993). Battered women who kill: Jury simulation and legal defenses.Law Hum. Behav. 17: 289–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. MacCoun, R. J., and Kerr, N. L. (1988). Asymmetric influence in mock jury deliberation: Jurors' bias for leniency.J. Personal. Social Psychol. 54: 21–33.Google Scholar
  22. Roberts, C. F., and Golding, S. L. (1991). The social construction of criminal responsibility and insanity.Law Hum. Behav. 15: 349–376.Google Scholar
  23. Ross, L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In Berkowitz, L. (ed.),Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 10). Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  24. Rubin, Z., and Peplau, L. A. (1975). Who believes in a just world?J. Social Issues 31: 65–89.Google Scholar
  25. Saunders, D. B., Lynch, A. B., Grayson, M., and Linz, D. (1987). The Inventory of Beliefs about Wife Beating: The construction and initial validation of a measure of beliefs and attitudes.Viol. Vict. 2: 39–57.Google Scholar
  26. Schneider, E. M., and Jordan, S. B. (1981). Representation of women who defend themselves in response to physical or sexual assault. In Bochnak, E. (ed.),Self Defense Cases: Theory and Practice, Michie Co. Law Pubs., Charlottesville, VA.Google Scholar
  27. Schuller, R. A. (1992). The impact of battered woman syndrome evidence on jury decision processes.Law Hum. Behav. 16: 597–620.Google Scholar
  28. Spence, J. T., Helmreich, R., and Stapp, J. (1973) A short version of the Attitudes toward Women Scale (AWS).Bull. Psychonom. Soc. 2: 219–220.Google Scholar
  29. Walker, L. E. (1979)The Battered Woman, Harper & Row, New York.Google Scholar
  30. Walker, L. E. (1984).The Battered Woman Syndrome, Springer, New York.Google Scholar
  31. Wolfgang, M. (1975).Patterns in Criminal Homicide, Patterson Smith, Montclair, NJ.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diane R. Follingstad
    • 1
  • Michael J. Brondino
    • 1
  • Kathryn J. Kleinfelter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of South CarolinaColumbia

Personalised recommendations