Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Assemblywoman Fiona Ma's Bill to Bring Justice to Incarcerated Victims of Domestic Violence, Passes out of Assembly Committee on Public Safety

SACRAMENTO –Assemblywoman Fiona Ma's (D-San Francisco and San Mateo Counties) AB 593 got through one of its first hurdles today as it passed out of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

As the chair of the Domestic Violence Select Committee, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma has hosted informational hearings to understand the issues and challenges of incarcerated domestic violence victims. One of the cases that became the catalyst behind AB 593 was that of Brenda Clubine's, a domestic violence victim.

"Today is a great success, as we continue the state’s progress to help incarcerated victims of domestic violence seek justice. This bill will ensure other women like Brenda can have a second chance to tell their stories and be judged fairly with all the facts in place."

In 1983, after enduring years of abuse, Brenda was convicted of second degree murder with a 16 years to life sentence. A California prison study found that 93% of women who committed homicide did so in attempt to protect themselves or their children from a violent spouse. As a result of this type of behavior, in 1992 Intimate Partner Battering and its Effects (IPC) also known as Battered Women’s Syndrome, was allowed to be introduced and weigh in as evidence in cases where battered women were charged with crimes relating to their experiences of being abused. However, for Brenda and women like her, this law did not apply retroactively and only effected the cases of domestic violence victims after 1992.

As Brenda stated in her testimony in committee today, "When I went to trial, I was only 20 and scared out of my mind. How did I get here? How did this ever happen to me? I never meant to take my husband’s life… I had piles of evidence, reports and paperwork of my abuse to show what lead up to that night of the crime. Yet, it was not allowed to be presented to the jury… even my expert witness was not allowed in the courtroom to testify on my behalf.”

In 2002, the Legislature passed SB 799 by Senator Betty Karnette which allows incarcerated victims of domestic violence who were convicted of crimes relating to their experiences of being abused, where the crime occurred before August 1996, to submit a petition for writ of habeas corpus. As a result of this bill, in October 2008 Brenda Clubine was retried and released after serving 26 years in prison due to enough evidence of IPC.

There are many cases just like Brenda’s that have yet to be heard or were overlooked due to the inclusion of expert testimony. Judges simply did not have an understanding of what was admissible. AB 593 seeks to address this issue by doing two things: it will allow victims of domestic violence whose expert testimony was limited at their trial court proceedings to re-file for a writ of habeas corpus to allow this expert testimony to weigh in on their defense and it will also give victims more time to receive legal representation by deleting the sunset date currently in statute.

According to the Habeas Project, there are currently 19 women still waiting for an attorney-some of who have been waiting for over five years. There is currently no state or local paid legal representation available for cases like Brenda’s so it falls upon attorneys to volunteer and help women like Brenda.

AB 593 will now head to the Assembly floor for a vote which is yet to be scheduled.