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Feminist News


June-25-02

California Courts to Hear More Cases Involving Battered Woman Syndrome

With the passage of a new California state law, the battered womens 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 Womens Law Center, the University of Southern Californias 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 laws 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. Suarezs niece Patricia Valencia told the San Francisco Chronicle: I dont have any comprehension For women who are caught in situations similar to my aunts, how can they feel protected by our government? The states parole boardappointed by Davisis presently reviewing 100 claims by women requesting consideration of domestic violence evidence, according to David McAuley, chief investigator for the Californias Board of Prison Terms. Thus far, battered womens syndrome has been named as a factor in 14 of those cases. Davis has opposed his boards recommendations calling for the womens release in seven of nine board hearings involving battered women convicted of killing their abusers before 1992.

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