A Critique on the Use of Battered Woman Syndrome in Court

Yuning Wu, University of Delaware

By far, Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) has had a great impact in law as well as in popular culture. Although it can be helpful as a means to educate juries from a psychological perspective about why battered women do not leave their batterers or why they kill out of real belief of the imminent danger, it should not be the only answer and probably not the best one. Through a review of three influential cases which involve the use of expert testimony on BWS, Ibn-Tamas v. United States, Hess v. Macaskill and People v. Simpson, we can see that BWS falls short on scientific soundness grounds, yet for political reasons is included in courtroom. This is problematic because for one thing, it fails to meet the requirements for admission under the rules of evidence set by Daubert, for another thing, it can easily be misused to pathologies women or even to assist their batterers to fight against them. What we can do is unbind ourselves from just one theoretical perspective and welcome more knowledge and expertise into courtroom, such as sociological approach, and believe that the strongest will survive.

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Updated 05/20/2006