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Battered Person Syndrome

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What Is a Battered Person?

An individual who has been  physically or psychologically abused in a relationship may be considered a sufferer of "battered person syndrome." This term has traditionally been applied to women, as in "battered woman syndrome" or "battered wife syndrome." However, men also suffer from ongoing domestic abuse in their lives. Therefore, battered person syndrome may apply regardless of person’s gender. Battered person syndrome often developes as a result of an ongoing domestic violence situation.

What Is the Significance of Battered Person Syndrome In a Criminal Case?

When someone is considered a "battered person," this fact may figure prominently in criminal cases. A criminal defense lawyer may decide to use the syndrome as a criminal defense. In some jurisdictions, battered person syndrome may be considered a complete defense, while in others it is only a partial defense since it would be considered as a mitigating circumstance.

How to Establish a Battered Person Legal Defense?

When battered person syndrome is a complete defense, the "battered" defendant is essentially off the hook – he or she is acquitted of the criminal charge(s).

Establishing that someone is in fact a "battered person" may be a challenge. A court may consider:

  • Expert Testimony: Expert witness testimony (usually a psychologist) about the defendant being a "battered person"
  • Witness Testimony: Testimony by an independent witness telling about a history of abuse
  • Relationship: The closeness of the relationship between the victim and the abuser
  • Type of Abuse: The type of abuse (psychological abuse by itself may not be enough)
  • Fear & Risks Involved: Whether the defendant should reasonably fear imminent physical injury based on prior abuse

How Can Battered Person Syndrome Be Used by the Criminal Prosecution?

Aside from using battered person syndrome as a criminal defense, the prosecution may use the syndrome to explain the conduct of a crime victim. For example, a wife’s failure to report ongoing domestic abuse by the husband may be explained because she suffers from battered person syndrome.

Battered Women's Syndrome is also used as a defense when defending a wife's criminal charge of injuring or killing their abusive spouses. The courts state that the wife who injured or killed her husband was because of the constant abuse by her husband which caused her to injure or kill the husband. This element is used and considered as a mitigating circumstance.

Do I Need A Lawyer?

If you have experienced abuse in a relationship, you should contact a family lawyer or a personal injury lawyer.

In a criminal case, as a victim of ongoing abuse, you may be eligible to claim battered person syndrome by itself or in conjunction with self-defense against the abuser. A qualified criminal defense lawyer will explain how to establish battered person syndrome as a legal defense.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 11-10-2015 01:24 PM PST

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