AB 593 (Ma): “Sin By Silence Bill”
AB 593 seeks to clarify Penal Code 1473.5 to include the domestic violence victims that were unintentionally denied their original writ of habeas corpus due to limited expert testimony evidence.
Background & Problem:
In the United States, one in four women will experience domestic violence over the course of her life. In 2006 alone, California law enforcement received 176,299 domestic violence calls and Californians placed around 20,000 calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. While there are many possible avenues for a victim to receive help today, many victims before 1996 were unable to receive help or did not know about keeping a record of their abuse.
Several hundred women in California are serving time for killing their batterers and hundreds, if not thousands, more are serving time for domestic violence-related crimes. Of the 45 women on death row in 1993, about half had a history of abuse and were there for killing an abusive spouse or lover.
A California state prison study found that 93% of the women who had killed their significant others had been battered by them; 67% of these women indicated the homicide resulted from an attempt to protect themselves or their children.
In 1991, the Legislature enacted AB 785, which amends Evidence Code Section 1107 to allow expert testimony on Intimate Partner Battering and its Effects (IPB) to be introduced as evidence in cases where battered women are charged with crimes related to their experiences of being abused. IPB testimony was intended to educate juries about domestic violence and help them understand the
effects of the abuse on the defendant at the time of the crime. This law did not apply retroactively and only affected the trials of domestic violence victims after 1992.
In 2002, the Legislature passed SB 799 and SB 1385 in 2005, which allows incarcerated victims of domestic violence who were convicted of crimes related to their experiences of being abused are able to submit a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging their original convictions. Such petitioners can seek a new trial, a reduced sentence, or another equitable remedy if expert testimony on intimate partner battering and its effects was not received into evidence during their original trial proceedings, and it is reasonable to believe that the outcome of the trial would have been different with such expert testimony. Since expert testimony on IPB was a new type of evidence, some judges limited the expert’s testimony in ways that prejudiced the battered woman on trial.
While SB 799 was intended to provide relief for all domestic violence victims who lacked expert testimony during their original trial proceedings, some battered women have been denied access to this relief because they did have limited expert testimony during their original trials, even though this testimony was deficient by today’s standards.
Additionally, due to the amount of time needed to investigate these 20+ year old cases, only 16 women have successfully petitioned for a writ and been released. According to the Habeas Project, which helps find legal representation for women that qualify under Penal Code 1473.5, there are 19 women still waiting for attorneys; some of whom have been waiting for over 5 years. By the time legal representation is found, investigations are conducted and habeas petitions are prepared, the current sunset clause in P.C. 1473.5 may preclude these women from seeking relief.
AB 593 captures the original intent of SB 799 and rectifies the problem with current law by allowing victims of domestic violence whose expert testimony was limited during their trial court proceedings to file for a writ of habeas corpus.
AB 593 also gives victims more time to receive legal representation by deleting the sunset date currently in the statute.