Battered Person Syndrome

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 What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a type of offense which occurs when one individual engages in abusive behavior against another individual, such as a:

  • Marital partner;
  • Family member; or
  • Close social acquaintance.

Domestic violence may also be referred to as domestic abuse or spousal abuse. Domestic violence may involve acts such as:

  • Assault and battery;
  • Economic deprivation;
  • Sexual threats; or
  • Stalking.

Why is Domestic Violence Often Undetected?

There are numerous factors which make it very difficult for law enforcement to discover, investigate and deter domestic violence, including:

  • A lack of reporting by a victim due to fear of retaliation from their abuser;
  • The victim’s financial dependency on their partners’ income;
  • The victim not being willing to testify against their abuser;
  • The development of battered person syndrome;
  • The desire to save the dysfunctional relationship; and
  • Other issues, such as guilt and withdrawal.

Is There a Legal Claim of Domestic Violence?

Yes, an individual may make a civil or criminal legal claim of domestic violence. In many jurisdictions, in addition to claims including assault and battery, an individual may include domestic violence as a separate claim either as a criminal charge or in a lawsuit.

A domestic abuse claim will not cancel out any other possible claims in a civil lawsuit, such as:

  • Assault;
  • Battery; or
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Because of this, there is no reason for an individual not to make their claim for domestic violence if their situation warrants it.

What is Domestic Violence in a Criminal Case?

Abuse and domestic violence may lead to criminal cases. Although the punishment for domestic violence may seem harsh, when a victim initiates a criminal case, they will help deter this abusive conduct.

In addition, many victims may not be aware that their abusers can benefit from counseling that is designed to treat their destructive behaviors.

What is Domestic Violence in a Civil Case?

In addition to a victim initiating a criminal case, they may also be able to bring a civil action against their abuser. If their criminal case is successful, then their civil case will also likely be successful.

A civil action for domestic violence is considered to be an intentional tort. Although the majority of states have limitations on family members filing lawsuits against each other for domestic violence, the majority do not.

Even states which do have limitations of these types of lawsuits make special exceptions.

What is Battered Person’s Syndrome?

Battered person’s syndrome is a mental disorder which results from serious and prolonged victimization of domestic abuse. Battered person’s syndrome may also be referred to as battered women’s syndrome or battered wife syndrome.

Battered person’s syndrome was recognized in the 1990’s when experts discovered that there was an increasing number of women who were murdering their violent abusers. It is important to note that although women are more frequently the victims of domestic violence, men can also be victims.

There are several common characteristics of an individual who is suffering from battered person’s syndrome, including:

  • The victim feels responsible for the abuse;
  • The victim is reluctant to blame their abuser for the violence which was perpetrated against them;
  • The victim frequently fears for their safety;
  • The victim believes that their abuser has so much power that even contacting police for assistance 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 criminal charge. Another common use is as mitigation or as a mitigating factor.

Mitigating factors do not prevent defendants from being found guilty. However, if a defendant is found guilty and they are a battered person, they may be able to use the abuse they suffered as mitigation in their sentencing.

In other words, if a defendant was a victim of ongoing domestic violence, they may be able to use that fact to reduce the punishment they receive.

How to Establish a Defense for a Battered Person?

There are two main ways in which a defendant can establish a defense. The first option is that the defendant was exercising self-defense to defend themselves from another act of violence from their abuser.

The second option is to use the battered person’s syndrome to explain why the defendant actually committed the crime and why they believed there was no other option to escape the abuse other than committing the crime. It is important to note that not every state recognizes the battered person’s syndrome as a defense.

Although some states do recognize the defense, it may not serve as a complete defense. A complete defense would result in an acquittal of the charges against the defendant, which would mean that the defendant would be free to go following the trial or when a defense is accepted by the jury or the court.

In these types of cases, there are certain types of evidence which can be used, including:

  • Expert Testimony: An expert in the field of domestic violence, such as a psychologist, may testify about the defendant’s battered person’s syndrome;
  • Witness Testimony: This can come from a third person who has seen or heard the abuse to the defendant;
  • Defendant’s Testimony: This can be 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 that they had no other option but to commit the crime in order to escape the abuse;
  • Description of the Abuse: Psychological and verbal abuse may not be enough to establish a defense. However, long-term and/or ongoing physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated on 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; and
  • Evidence of Abuse: Medical records, documentation, and photos of injuries as well as past police reports may show the existence of the ongoing abuse against the defendant.

What about the Use of Battered Person’s Syndrome in Prosecution?

A prosecutor may be able to use a victim’s battered person’s syndrome in order to explain their behavior prior to and during a trial. For example, many abused individuals recant their stories and claim abuse never occurred or fail to report the abuse promptly when it does occur.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Domestic violence can be a dangerous and very serious situation. A family lawyer can assist you if there is any ongoing domestic abuse as well as offer legal options that may be available to escape the violent relationship.

If you have been charged with a crime against your abuser, it is important to contact a criminal lawyer who can assist you with a battered person’s defense or mitigation if it applies to your situation. These defenses may be complex to explain to a jury and require expert testimony, so it is important to have a professional presenting this type of case to the court.

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