California Releases First Woman Under Battered Women’s Syndrome Law
Marva Wallace, an abused woman who has served 17 years in California state prison for killing her husband, became the first woman to be released under a state law passed in June that allows inmates to use the battered women’s syndrome to seek reversal of convictions for killing their abuser before 1992, when the syndrome was deemed lawful.
Wallace was released Friday after a Los Angeles District Judge David Wesley overturned her 1984 murder conviction and ordered a new trial in the case. A hearing was scheduled for today in which state prosecutors and defense lawyers will discuss the possibility of a new trial. “I’m speechless,” Olivia Wang, director of the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison, told the Los Angeles Times. “It is so gratifying to see a judge recognize that battered woman syndrome was a factor in this case and do the right thing.”
In addition to its potential to overturn convictions, the law also influences parole determinations. However, Governor Gray Davis denied Wallace parole two weeks ago, despite a recommendation from the state Board of Prison Terms to release Wallace. So far this year, Davis has blocked the parole of seven other women in similar situations with decisions on three others pending, according to the Times. Currently, there are 441 women incarcerated for pre-1992 murder or attempted murder convictions who may benefit from this law, according to battered women supporters.
The battered women’s syndrome is a behavioral condition suffered by those who are repeatedly abused, according to medical experts. Continuous abuse makes women feel so powerless that they tend to stay in an abusive situation until they come to believe that suicide or homicide is their only option.
Media Resources: LA Times 10/26/02; Feminist Daily News 6/25/02