According to this Jan 12, 2019 article from the Guardian:

The average prison sentence for men who kill their female partners is two to six years.

Such short sentencing sounds unrealistically short to me. Supposedly it comes from Statistics cited by the ACLU and the Women’s March, both of which seem to come from a statement by [xliii] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 1989. but I have not been able to find a research paper backing that average up.

Question to answer:

  • Was the average prison sentence of men who kill their female partners 2 to 6 years in 1989?

Bonus (nice to have) answer: Is it still true today?

  • 4
    How many “kills” are first degree murders, and how many are very unfortunate traffic accidents, or self defence? “Kill” covers everything.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 13, 2023 at 11:08
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    source appears to be here, not the NCADV: content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/… "Michael Dowd, director of the Pace University Battered Women's Justice Center, has found that the average sentence for a woman who kills her mate is 15 to 20 years; for a man, 2 to 6." This is widely quoted in various studies, but I can't find a source for it. Dowd is a lawyer who specializes/d in defending battered women.
    – thelawnet
    Aug 13, 2023 at 11:57
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    @gnasher729: Well, at least it's presumably limited to cases that actually resulted in a criminal conviction and sentence. That would rule out accidents without criminal negligence, and cases where self defense is proved. Aug 14, 2023 at 5:47

1 Answer 1


No, when it comes to murder

U. S. Sentencing Commission’s 1990 Annual Report Table K describes average sentences in months as:

Homicide 114

The report varies between criminal history category, but nothing comes close to the lower end of the claim.

But it might be complicated

There are factors making simple average calculation hard. 1) Commitment to mental hospital 2) Life sentence and 3) Acquittal. 4) Plea-bargaining. How many years of sentence would one assign to these when calculating average length of sentence?

Bulletin of the AAPL Vol. 10, No.4, 1982 writes

The court's disposition was also disparate between men and women. Thirty-six percent of the female defendants were released as not guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity, while no male defendants were released for these reasons. Of the males 8.7 percent (but none of the females) were committed to a mental hospital by the courts. Even in sentencing these defendants found guilty, the courts meted lighter punishment for the women. Some 27.3 percent of them received probation or a short (less than five years) sentence. while only 13 percent of the men received similar sentences. On the other hand. 69.6 percent of the male defendants received a sentence of five years to life. but only 27.3 percent of the female defendants received such a sentence. These figures suggest the courts treat women more leniently than they treat men in cases of spouse murder.

Granted, the study is from single state and is limited in scope.

Bonus: Glaeser et al. NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH April 2000 claims in table 1: mean Prison Sentences By BJS Circumstance of Murder in case of Lover/spouse quarrel: 18.0 years. (With life sentence calculated as 50 years)

United States Sentencing Commission Quarterly Data Report reports median sentences in months as

Manslaughter 68
Murder 224

This does not separate between males and females. Yet for murder the 2-6 years claim did not apply in 2020.

  • Interesting. I wonder where the average originated by Michael Dowd comes from then.
    – Luxspes
    Aug 14, 2023 at 11:31
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    @Luxspes: Sadly, often such figures just get made up from whole cloth, and once repeated enough times, become referenced "fact". Aug 14, 2023 at 11:32
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    While your figures seem solid, they don't refute Dowd's claim, , Dowd's claim expressly does not apply only to murder convictions: it applies to all cases where someone was convicted after killing their female partner, so would include (a majority of) plea bargains to lesser charges, such as manslaughter or assault. Doing the research to verify Dowd's claim would probably involve reading a lot of death reports and connecting them with judicial outcomes Also Dowd's claim probably deducts time spent on parole, so you'd have to track that as well.
    – antlersoft
    Aug 15, 2023 at 22:21
  • @antlersoft Good points. I think one would need native legal practitioner to answer about plea deals. To non-us citizen it sounds alien that one could bargain to assault when there is someone dead. 1990 source did not list manslaughter as category.
    – pinegulf
    Aug 16, 2023 at 5:30
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    @Luxspes Quote = "Males comprised 83.9 percent of all defendants sentenced under the guidelines; while females" comprised the remaining 16.1 percent." /quote It includes both with heavy emphasis on males.
    – pinegulf
    Aug 18, 2023 at 5:26

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