Battered person’s syndrome is a mental disorder that is caused by serious and prolonged victimization of domestic abuse. Frequently called battered women’s syndrome or battered wife’s syndrome, this disorder became recognized in the 1990’s when experts discovered there was an increasing number of women who murdered their violent abusers.

It is important to note that while women are more frequently the victim of domestic violence, men can be victims too.

The following are common characteristics of someone suffering from battered person’s syndrome:

  • The victim feels responsible for the abuse;
  • The victim is reluctant to blame the abuser for their violence towards the victim;
  • The victim is frequently in fear for their safety;
  • The victim believes the abuser has such power that even contacting police for help will not stop the abuse; and/or
  • The victim has begun to feel there is no possible escape from the abuser.

What is the Legal Use of Battered Person’s Syndrome?

The most common use of battered person’s syndrome is as a complete defense to a crime against the abuser or as mitigation.

Mitigation does not prevent the defendant from being found guilty but after being found guilty, a battered person may be able to use the abuse as mitigation in sentencing. The fact that the defendant was a victim of an ongoing domestic violence situation may reduce the punishment.

How to Establish a Defense for Battered Person?

There are two main ways to establish a defense for the battered criminal defendant. The first is the use of self-defense if the defendant was defending themselves from another act of violence by the abuser.

The second is using the battered person’s syndrome to explain why the defendant committed the crime and why the defendant saw no other option to escaping the abuse other than committing the crime.

Not all states recognize the battered person’s syndrome as a defense and while some do it may not be a complete defense. A complete defense results in a acquittal of the charges meaning the person is free to go after the trial or when the defense is accepted by the court.

In either case, it is important to use the following evidence:

  • Expert Testimony: A psychologist or other expert in the domestic violence field may testify about the defendant’s battered person’s syndrome.
  • Witness Testimony: from a third person who has seen or heard the abuse to the defendant.
  • Defendant’s Testimony: regarding the abuse and why they reacted.
  • The Relationship Between the Defendant and the Victim Abuser: Abusive relationships that  have a long history and where the parties are isolated from others tend to show the victimized defendant felt they had no other choice but to commit the crime to escape the abuse.
  • Description of the Abuse: Psychological and verbal abuse is not likely to be enough to establish a defense. Ongoing physical and sexual violence towards to the defendant may be sufficient.
  • Fear and Risk to the Defendant During the Relationship: A history of the abuser capturing the defendant after they left the relationship and harming them for escaping shows that the defendant felt there was no hope of simply leaving the abuser.
  • Evidence of Abuse: Photos and medical documentation of injuries and past police reports may demonstrate the existence of the ongoing abuse to the defendant.

The Use of Battered Person’s Syndrome in Prosecution

Prosecutors can use the victim’s syndrome to explain their behavior before and during trial. For example, many abused persons recant their story and claim the abuse never happened or fail to report promptly when abuse does occur.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Domestic violence is a serious and dangerous situation. A family lawyer can assist with ongoing domestic abuse and offer legal options to escaping a violent relationship. If you have been charged with a crime against your abuser a qualified criminal lawyer can help you with a battered person’s defense or mitigation if it applies to your situation.