Spouse Murder Defendants in Large Urban Counties

An interesting 1995 study. Some highlights:

While most persons arrested (70%) for spouse murder were charged with first-degree murder, most persons convicted (52%) of spouse murder had negligent or nonnegligent manslaughter as their conviction offense.

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The average prison sentence for unprovoked wife defendants was 7 years, or 10 years shorter than the average 17 years for unprovoked husband defendants.

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Wife defendants had a lower conviction rate than husband defendants
* Of the 222 wife defendants, 70% were convicted of killing their mate.

By contrast, of the 318 husband defendants, 87% were convicted of spouse murder.

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* Of the 100 wife defendants tried by either a judge or jury, 31% were acquitted. But of the 138 husband defendants tried, 6% were acquitted.

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Self-defense as possible explanation for wives’ lower conviction rate
In certain circumstances, extreme victim provocation may justify taking a life in self-defense. Provocation was more often present in wife defendant cases, and wife defendants were less likely than husband defendants to be convicted, suggesting that the relatively high rate of victim provocation characteristic of wife defendant cases was one of the reasons wife defendants had a lower conviction rate than husband defendants. Consistent with that, of the provoked wife defendants, 56% were convicted, significantly lower than either the 86% conviction rate for unprovoked wife defendants or the 88% conviction rate for unprovoked husbands

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