Behavioral Sciences and the Law Volume: 8 Issue: 2 Dated: (Spring 1990) Pages: 171-180
A study of 196 undergraduate psychology students (69 males, 118 females; mean age = 19.74 years) examined the effect of a proposed "Psychological Self-Defense" legal doctrine on the verdict in two vignette cases in which a battered woman killed her abusive husband.
The proposed doctrine is intended to provide a legal justification for a killing committed under the threat of extremely serious psychological damage. In both vignette forms, the husband abused alcohol; perpetrated severe physical, sexual and psychological abuse; attempted to socially isolate the wife; and promised his wife that his behavior would improve and that he loved her. The wife had previously attempted to leave her husband, but perceived no option other than to remain and had grown up in an abusive family. Details of the vignettes were different and, as expected, had no significant effect on verdicts. Jury instructions which varied by self-defense instruction (Psychological Self-Defense only, Physical Self-Defense only, both, and neither) were then given to the subjects; only the Psychological Self-Defense instructions significantly influenced their verdict patterns, primarily by shifting would-be voluntary manslaughter convictions to acquittals. 7 footnotes, 4 tables, 18 references. (Author abstract modified)