West Virginia Homicide Jury Instructions Project Professor James R. Elkins & Students at the West Virginia University College of Law [Spring][2006]




Battered Spouse Syndrome

Standard Jury Instruction: [none]

Proposed Jury Instruction: [For a revised self-defense jury instruction, see: Self Defense]

If you find, based on the testimony presented, that the defendant suffered from Battered Spouse Syndrome, you may consider how the effects of this condition may have altered the defendant's mental state. Specifically, you may consider this evidence in deciding whether the defendant actually believed that she [he] needed to defend herself [himself] against an imminent threat of great bodily injury or death, and whether that belief was reasonable based on all the facts and circumstances as they have been made known to you by the evidence and the testimony in this case.

You may consider whether the presence of Battered Spouse Syndrome altered the defendant's peceptions and beliefs, including her perceptions and beliefs about the danger of the threat posed to her [him] and that the danger was imminent. A danger may be found imminent when the threat is of such a persistent, continuing, threatening nature that the defendant has reasonably determined that it cannot be averted.

The circumstances at the time the defendant acted must have been such that would produce in the mind of a reasonable person, similarly situated, the reasonable belief that the other person was then about to kill her [him], or to do her [him] serious bodily harm. You must determine the reasonableness of the defendant's belief and actions based on those beliefs in light of the circumstances as they appeared to the defendant at the time of the killing, and as they are evaluated by you now. Reasonableness is based both on the defendant's beliefs and on your evaluation as to their reasonableness.

If the defendant presents credible evidence of self defense, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense. If you have a reasonable doubt as to whether or not the defendant acted in self-defense, your verdict must be not guilty.


1. Evidence of Battered Spouse Syndrome may arise in a homicide case in a variety of context and a single jury instruction may be insufficient to cover all circumstances in which the issue is raised. The Court has found that evidence of battered spouse syndrome is admissible in homicide cases to: (1)etermine the defendant's mental state where self-defense is asserted (State v. Dozier, 163 W. Va. 192, 197-98, 255 S.E.2d 552, 555 (1979)); (2) negate criminal intent (State v. Lambert, 173 W. Va. 60, 63-64, 312 S.E.2d 31, 35 (1984)); (3) establish either the lack of malice, intention, or awareness, and thus negate or tend to negate a necessary element of the offenses charged (State v. Wyatt, 198 W. Va. 530, 482 S.E.2d 147 (1996)).

2. Battered Spouse Syndrome does not, in and of itself, provide the defendant a complete defense. It has been recognized as a rule of evidence.

3. All jurisdictions do not have jury instructions specificially related to Battered Spouse Syndrome.

4. The proposed jury instruction does not "define" Battered Spouse Syndrome. Whether the defendant meets the diagnostic criteria for the syndrome will be established (and contested) by medical, psychological, and psychiatry testimony (and by lay testimony).

Relevant Cases:

1. The Court has recognized that, where there is a history of domestic violence, Battered Women's Syndrome testimony may be used to negate criminal intent. State v. Wyatt, 198 W.Va. 530, 482 S.Ed. 2d 147 (1996).

Evidence of battered spouse syndrome is admissible to determine a criminal defendant's mental state where self-defense is asserted. State v. Dozier, 163 W. Va. 192, 197-98, 255 S.E.2d 552, 555 (1979).

Evidence that the defendant was incapable of understanding the consequences of her actions can be used to refute the contention that she had the requisite criminal intent necessary to be convicted of first degree murder. State v. Wickline, 184 W. Va. 12, 18, 399 S.E. 2d 42 (1990).

In State v. Lambert, the court permitted testimony of Battered Spouse Syndrome to show lack of intent to commit fraud. State v. Lambert, 173 W. Va. 60, 312 S.E.2d 31 (1984).

2. A lack of intent based on the claim that defendant acted under duress caused by Battered Spouse Syndrome may not be used to negate intent unless the compulsion or coercion was present, imminent, and impending, and would induce a well-grounded apprehension of death or serious bodily harm if the criminal act is not done. It must also be shown that the defendant had no reasonable opportunity to escape the compulsion without committing the crime. A threat of future injury is not enough. State v. Lambert, 173 W. Va. 60, 312 S.E.2d 31 (1984).