U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Spouse Murder Defendants in Large Urban Counties: Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 1995
3 pages
This report summarizes findings from a study of 540 spouse murder defendants prosecuted in the Nation's 75 largest urban counties during 1988.
Of the 540 defendants, 59 percent were husbands and 41 percent were wives. Blacks comprised 55 percent of the total sample; in 97 percent of the cases, both spouses were the same race. The age of defendants ranged from 18 to 87 years. Seventy percent of defendants were charged with first-degree murder. In these cases, 43 percent of spouse murder defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced, 44 percent pleaded not guilty and stood trial, and 13 percent were not prosecuted. Of those who stood trial, 84 percent were convicted either by a jury or judge. Of the 431 defendants convicted of killing their spouse, 89 percent were sentenced to a State prison, 1 percent to a county jail, and 10 percent to probation. The statistics show that wife defendants were less likely to be convicted and more likely to receive lenient sentences when convicted, possibly because self-defense was raised as a mitigating factor more often in defense of wives. Defendant's race and victim's race were unrelated to case disposition. 1 figure

Date Published: September 1, 1995