SMU Law Review


The affirmative defense of duress was created to protect a person coerced into committing a violent physical crime. Alongside duress, battered woman syndrome (BWS) is a psychological theory created to explain why women choose to kill abusive partners rather than leave them. Although BWS is a well-known and supported legal theory, historically, courts have been reluctant to allow expert evidence regarding the syndrome into testimony to help explain a battered woman’s behavior. Battered women have been so subjected to abuse and violence that their psychological perception is altered. In cases where expert evidence has been admitted, it profoundly affected jurors’ perception of battered women. The admitted expert evidence allows the jury to see her actions as her only available choice to protect herself. Thus, all courts should move to permit the admission of expert evidence regarding BWS to allow these women a fair trial and the potential opportunity to avoid a life behind bars.

This Comment seeks to understand the implications of BWS and the substantial impact expert testimony can have when attempting to prove a duress defense. It purports to familiarize the reader with BWS and duress generally before critically analyzing the psychological repercussions of BWS, which can be conveyed to a jury through the admission of expert evidence. This Comment looks to the current circuit split regarding the admissibility of such evidence and outlines each court’s reasoning. Ultimately, this Comment advocates for the admission of expert evidence and attempts to urge undecided jurisdictions on the matter using legal arguments, recent federal and state court decisions, statistical evidence stressing the widespread nature of the matter, and the societal effects, both recent and historical.

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