In the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds, making domestic violence the leading cause of injury to women. Evidence of battered woman syndrome (BWS) is generally admissible in criminal trials to bolster a woman’s claim of self-defense for the murder or serious injury of her batterer. However, there is pushback from courts when it comes to the admissibility of expert testimony on BWS in the context of a duress defense. This Note asserts that expert testimony regarding BWS should be admissible to support a duress defense. Specifically, this Note urges that, when faced with a battered defendant who asserts a defense of duress, Iowa courts should admit expert testimony on BWS, regardless of the factual context in which the duress occurred. To effectively present a claim of duress, the jury must understand how domestic violence operates—the kinds of coercive, manipulating, and violent tactics that a batterer employs and the impact that those tactics may have upon a victim. Expert testimony would aid the jury in their assessment of the requisite elements the defense. Without such evidence, jurors cannot accurately assess the reasonableness of the victim’s decision to commit a particular crime.
Andrea M. Dalimonte, Confronting Battered Woman Syndrome in Iowa: Admissibility of Expert Testimony in the Compulsion Defense, 26 J. Gender, Race & Just. 453 (2023).