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Ambiguous Responsibilities: Law And Conflicting Expert Testimony On The Abused Woman Who Shot Her Sleeping Husband

Renée Römkens

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Truth is a thing of this world: It is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint.—Michel Foucault 1977Law is less than ever the exclusive domain of legal experts. However, scientific experts often disagree on what constitutes scientifically reliable and valid knowledge. In sociolegal debates about whether luw or science is ultimately decisive in this decision-making process, the focus is primarily on the competition between the powers of law or science.Using a detailed analysis of a Dutch appellate case of a battered woman who killed her husband, I will argue that the legal decision on conflicting expert testimonies in the field of forensic psychiatry and psychology resulted from a much more complex intersection of power, struggles between law and science, but also among scientists. Various aspects of expert testimony, unrelated to the scientific validity of the knowledge, profoundly influence how specialized knowledge from experts will or will not be validated by the law. Such aspects include status differences between institutionalized and less-established disciplines, and gender bias. While exercising its ultimate obligation and power to judge in an arena of disputing experts, law in this case rhetorically constructs an image of rationality, Objectivity, and neutrality of its own decision-making process. In so doing, it masks the underlying umbiguities, its arbitrariness, and its gender bias in the process of inclusion or exclusion of expert knowledge.