Schuller, R. A. (1992). The impact of battered woman syndrome evidence on jury decision-processes. Law and Human Behavior, 16, 597-620.
The impact of “battered woman syndrome” testimony on jury decision processes in trials of battered women who kill their abusers was investigated in two separate studies. It was hypothesized that the presence of the testimony would influence jurors’ verdicts via its mediating effect on the jurors’ interpretations of the battered woman’s beliefs and actions and that its impact would vary as a function of the degree to which it was linked to the woman on trial. In Experiment I, subjects read a homicide trial involving a battered woman who had killed her husband. They received either no expert testimony (control), expert testimony presenting general research findings on the battered woman syndrome (general expert), or expert testimony in which the expert supplemented the general information with an opinion that the defendant fit the syndrome (specific expert). The presence of the specific expert, compared to the control, led to interpretations that were more consistent with the woman’s account of what occurred; these interpretations, in turn, were related to more lenient verdicts. Experiment 2 investigated the effects of the testimony on small groups of deliberating jurors. Compared to the control condition, a moderate shift in verdicts from murder to manslaughter was found in both expert conditions. Content analyses of the deliberations, as well as postdeliberation judgments, indicated that the presence of the testimony led to interpretations that were more favorable to the battered woman’s claim of self-defense. Specificity of expert testimony on battered woman syndrome did not affect conviction rate, but testimony that linked the defendant to profile reduced verdict severity compared with general exposition of syndrome. Expert testimony infrequently mentioned during deliberation.