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Does Ambivalent Sexism Influence Verdicts for Heterosexual and Homosexual Defendants in a Self-Defense Case?

NCJ Number
Journal of Family Violence Volume: 24 Issue: 3 Dated: April 2009 Pages: 145-157
Brenda Russell; Laurie L. Ragatz; Shane W. Kraus
Date Published
April 2009
13 pages
A sample of 442 participants (284 females) were asked to render verdicts for 8 scenarios of legal cases that involved a defense argument of self-defense in the killing of an intimate partner, with the scenarios varying by defendant gender, defendant sexual orientation, and the presence or absence of expert testimony regarding the "battered person syndrome."
The study found that female participants were more influenced than male participants by the defendant’s gender, sexual orientation, and expert testimony. Heterosexual female defendants received the lowest culpability ratings, with these ratings being significantly lower than culpability ratings for homosexual female or heterosexual male defendants. Having expert testimony on the “battered partner syndrome” only helped the defendants who fit the stereotypical image of the typical abuse victim, i.e. a heterosexual woman. Female participants found male homosexual defendants significantly less guilty when expert testimony was provided compared to the condition under which no expert testimony was given. Predictors of guilt included only two legal elements, i.e., the defendant’s actions were justified and a reasonable person would react the same as the defendant. One implication of the findings is that in voir dire, the defense in such cases may benefit from selecting more female jurors and using expert testimony on the “battered person syndrome,” so long as a heterosexual female or a homosexual man is the defendant. On the other hand, individuals high in benevolent sexism toward men or women should be removed from consideration as jurors during voir dire, since such individuals are more likely to allow their gender biases to influence their decisionmaking. Ninety-one percent of the sample were Caucasian with a heterosexual orientation. The dependent variable was the verdict (second-degree murder, manslaughter, or self-defense). 3 tables and 70 references


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