The United States’ judicial system is firmly rooted in the proposition that all people are innocent until proven guilty. But because of the rampant stigmatization and misconceptions surrounding abuse, women claiming affirmative defenses and proffering evidence stemming from such trauma are tried with the cards stacked against them. As such, courts should allow evidence of mental health conditions like Battered Woman Syndrome when providing affirmative defenses for crimes such as duress to mitigate the pervasive reality of juror bias within the judicial system. In United States v. Dingwall, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals joined the District of Columbia, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits in holding that evidence of battering and its effects can be offered to prove a duress defense. On the contrary, the Fifth and Tenth Circuits have expelled this conclusion, opting for an objective standard, and dispelling any consideration of a defendant’s subjective circumstances. This wholly denies the staggering effects abuse can have on a victim’s mental health and decision-making capabilities. Furthermore, it turns a blind eye to the fact that jurors often bring misunderstanding and bias towards battered women, born from misconceptions and limited exposure. As a result, rejecting this evidence places victims of abuse at a disadvantage and handicaps juries from making fully informed decisions. In an ideal world, jurors would have no prejudices towards defendants and would not allow their personal presumptions influence their views on the evidence presented to them. But because that level of compartmentalization is a pipe dream, courts have the duty to allow evidence that will attempt to negate these preconceived notions, thereby allowing defendants the best chance of trying their case on a clean slate. Shedding light on the life altering price abuse has on victims will hopefully act to destigmatize mental health conditions and help ensure justice for all.
Samantha M. Musick,
Explaining the Whys: Allowing Battered Woman Syndrome in Aid of a Duress Defense,
Seventh Circuit Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/seventhcircuitreview/vol17/iss1/4