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Ambivalence toward mothers who kill: An examination of 45 U.S. cases of maternal neonaticide

Authors

  • Joy Lynn E. Shelton B.A.,

    Corresponding author
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime, Behavioral Analysis Unit – 3, Crimes Against Children, FBI Academy, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), Quantico, Virginia 22135, U.S.A.
    Search for more papers by this author
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime, Behavioral Analysis Unit – 3, Crimes Against Children, FBI Academy, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), Quantico, Virginia 22135, U.S.A.

  • Yvonne Muirhead M.S.,

    Search for more papers by this author
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime, Behavioral Analysis Unit – 3, Crimes Against Children, FBI Academy, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), Quantico, Virginia 22135, U.S.A.

  • Kathleen E. Canning M.S.

    Search for more papers by this author
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime, Behavioral Analysis Unit – 3, Crimes Against Children, FBI Academy, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), Quantico, Virginia 22135, U.S.A.


Abstract

Public opinion about neonaticide (the killing of a newborn within the first 24 hours of life) has varied across time and cultures. Some nations have passed legislation on behalf of maternal offenders with the assumption that childbirth, a time of unique biological change, may lead to mental disturbance. The United States, however, makes no such distinction; offenders are prosecuted under general homicide laws. Nevertheless, U.S. courts often consider a mother's emotional and physical condition prior to and during delivery. This study includes 44 female offenders and 45 infant deaths and highlights society's ambivalence toward neonaticide offenders. The authors suggest that this ambivalence may be attributed to: (1) the perception that an offender's emotional and physical turmoil during the birth and homicide reduces her culpability; (2) the sentiment that neonaticide offenders are more “redeemable” than other offenders; and (3) the uncertainty about the personhood of a fetus or newborn. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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