Student participants (N = 316) viewed a videotaped simulated case involving a woman who had entered a self-defense plea in the shooting death of her abusive husband. As successful claims of self-defense rest on the portrayal of a defendant who has responded reasonably to his/her situation, the implications of various forms of expert testimony in constructing this narrative were examined. Jurors were presented with either expert testimony regarding the battered woman syndrome (BWS), the BWS framed within post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nomenclature, or a no-expert control condition. As the BWS classification may support a stereotypical victim, the degree to which the defendant fit the stereotype in terms of her access to a social support network (family, friends, employment outside of the home) was varied within the expert testimony conditions to reflect either a high or low degree of stereotype fit. Although jury verdicts failed to differ across expert testimony and stereotype fit conditions, perceptions of her credibility and mental stability did. Although affording jurors a framework from which the defendant's experiences as a battered woman may be acknowledged, this portrayal, as advanced within PTSD nomenclature, endorsed a pathological characterization of the defendant. Implications of this discourse for battered women within the context of self-defense are discussed.
Psychology of Women Quarterly
Department of Psychology

Terrance, C. (Cheryl), & Matheson, K. (2003). Undermining reasonableness: Expert testimony in a case involving a battered woman who kills. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 27(1), 37–45. doi:10.1111/1471-6402.t01-2-00005