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Mothers who murder : perceptions of female offenders and the Canadian infanticide code Udala, Megan Rose


There is a large body of research pertaining to the factors that affect perceptions of crime and sentencing decisions. Research suggests that females consistently receive shorter sentences than their male counterparts (Auerhahn, 2007; Rodriguez, Curry, & Lee, 2006). Further, crime characteristics such as victim age and victim relationship to the perpetrator may influence sentencing decisions; for example, studies have shown that a murder against a child is often considered more serious than a murder against an adult (Garvey, 1998; Kleinfeld, 2012). The murder of a child aged eighteen years or younger by a parent is called a filicide (Resnick, 1969). An infanticide occurs if a child is murdered within the first year of the infant’s life. According to the Canadian Criminal Code, infanticide is also a legal charge, applied only when a mother kills her newly born child and has not recovered from the effects of giving birth (R.S., c. C-34, s. 216). If a father murders his newly born child, he could receive a first-degree murder charge. An infanticide conviction results in a maximum of five years in prison; whereas, a first-degree murder conviction can result in life in prison (twenty-five years in prison). This dissertation incorporates three studies that investigated the influence of four factors on perceived seriousness of the crime: (a) the presentation of infanticide information, (b) age of the victim (c) the victim’s relationship to the perpetrator, and (d) mental status (i.e., psychosis) of the perpetrator. Results indicated that in a university sample, participants provided shorter sentences for female perpetrators who murder their own infant children in comparison to non-relative, older children. In a community sample, participants provided shorter sentences for women who murder younger children in comparison to older children. Further, participants in both samples provided shorter sentences for perpetrators who were mentally ill at the time of the crime. The purpose of this project was to elucidate the public perceptions of the Canadian infanticide defence.

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