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He Said, She Said: The Defense Attack of Credibility in Domestic Violence Felony Trials

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 7 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2001 Pages: 510-544
Date Published
May 2001
35 pages

This in-depth analysis of the trial process in domestic violence-related cases focuses on the defense themes and strategies used in domestic violence felony trials to challenge the credibility of the prosecution's case.


The study conducted a qualitative analysis of 40 domestic violence-related felony trial transcripts. In 21 cases, the charge involved murder, and 19 involved non-murder felony charges. The trials were in Iowa between 1989 and 1995; all involved a male defendant and female victims who were currently or had in the past been involved in a domestic relationship. All defendants had committed an offense that involved some type of physical assault or injury against the victim. All were convicted, although not necessarily on the original charge. Trial transcripts were qualitatively analyzed by using the principles of grounded theory, which involved generating concepts and themes that emerged directly from the data, rather than from applying preconceived ideas or questions to the data. The four primary defense types or themes for the cases were self-defense or provocation, going for a lesser charge, diminished responsibility, and the defendant did not commit the crime. The various defense strategies were grouped into four categories: the relationship was fine; character enhancement of the abuser; the evidence presented at trial was faulty, misleading, or inconclusive; and an attack on the victim's character. Many of the strategies used by the defenses manipulated common myths and misperceptions about the dynamics of domestic abuse. Implications for juror decision making and the use of expert witnesses in these trials are discussed. These defense tactics may also act as a secondary victimization of abused women. 3 tables, 3 notes, and 45 references

Date Published: May 1, 2001