Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, Victims of Domestic Violence and Advocates Join to Bring Justice to Incarcerated Victims of Domestic Violence

(Sacramento) - Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco and San Mateo Counties) joined Brenda Clubine, a survivor who spent 26 years behind bars for defending her life against her abuser, Senator Noreen Evans, Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, Tara Shabazz from the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence and other advocates this morning to advocate for AB 593 and AB 1593 known as the “Sin by Silence” bills. Shortly after, both bills passed out of the Senate floor.

As the chair of the Domestic Violence Select Committee, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma has worked diligently to shed light on issues of domestic violence and the challenges that incarcerated victims of domestic violence experience while in the judicial system. One of the cases that became the catalyst behind AB 593 and AB 1593 was that of Brenda Clubine's.

“These women deserve justice,” stated Assemblywoman Ma. “Today, we give hope to approximately 7,000 victims who have survived domestic violence.”

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.

When the original writ of habeas law went into effect to allow domestic violence victims to file a writ, the crime had to have been committed before January 1992. However, the California Supreme Court did not hear an Intimate Partner Battering case until August 29, 1996, in People v. Humphrey and later the Legislature changed Penal Code Section 1473.5 to reflect the date of this decision. However, Penal Code Section 4801 referring to IPB in Parole Board hearings, has not been amended to reflect the date of the Court’s decision from that case.

However, for Brenda and women like her, this law did not apply retroactively and only effected the cases of domestic violence victims after 1996.

As Brenda stated, "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.”

There are many cases just like Clubine’s that have yet to be heard or were overlooked due to the inclusion of expert testimony. Judges at the time were unaware of what testimony 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.

“When I was released in 2008, I left many women behind for whom the judicial system has failed,” Brenda stated. “These women deserve every opportunity to have their claims substantiated, not only through a writ, but also through the parole system.”

AB 1593 seeks to remedy this by allowing victims who have suffered Intimate Partner Battering (IPB) a chance to present their evidence in an effective way during the parole process by giving great weight to any information or evidence that proves the prisoner experienced IPB and its effects at the time the crime was committed, and that the information that is submitted to the Legislature is specific and detailed.

Also in attendance were , Judy Freeman, a pro-bono attorney and Olivia Klaus and Ann-Caryn Cleveland, co-producers of the Sin by Silence film.

Both bills will now head to the Governor’s desk where they will await his signature.