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California Courts to Hear More Cases Involving Battered Woman Syndrome

With the passage of a new California state law, the battered women’s syndrome may now be used to seek the reversal of convictions of women serving time for killing their abusers before 1992, when the argument was deemed lawful. Many of the 442 women currently incarcerated for pre-1992 murder or attempted murder convictions may benefit from this law, according to battered women supporters. Through a pro-bono legal project operated by the California Women’s Law Center, the University of Southern California’s Post-Conviction Justice Project, and the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison, two-dozen volunteer attorneys will seek re-examination for the cases of a group of 26 inmates. Encouraged by the law’s potential reach beyond California, staff attorney with the battered women coalition Olivia Wang said: “What happens here in California very likely is going to start a trend nationwide.”

In addition to its potential to overturn convictions, the law also influences parole determinations. Unfortunately, its impact there has been less promising. Last week, Gov. Gray Davis rejected parole for Maria Suarez, incarcerated since 1981 for killing Anselmo Covarrubias who purchased her as a sex slave when she was 16. Suarez’s niece Patricia Valencia told the San Francisco Chronicle: “I don’t have any comprehensionÉ For women who are caught in situations similar to my aunt’s, how can they feel protected by our government?” The state’s parole boardÑappointed by DavisÑis presently reviewing 100 claims by women requesting consideration of domestic violence evidence, according to David McAuley, chief investigator for the California’s Board of Prison Terms. Thus far, battered women’s syndrome has been named as a factor in 14 of those cases. Davis has opposed his board’s recommendations calling for the women’s release in seven of nine board hearings involving battered women convicted of killing their abusers before 1992.

Sources:

Sacramento Bee 4/12/02; San Francisco Chronicle 6/22/02; LA Times 6/21/02