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Hastings Women’s Law Journal

Abstract

A large number of battered women in California prisons have petitioned Governor Pete Wilson for pardon or for commutation of their prison sentences to time already served. Most of these women were sent to prison for killing their abusers in defense of themselves or their children. The legal, political, and social forces that influence the criminal trials of such women frequently ensure high conviction rates and stiff sentences. This is true despite efforts to show juries and trial courts that many battered women who kill do so out of a reasonable fear that they will suffer death or bodily harm that they consider imminent. Most convictions of battered women who kill result from a failure to account for these reasonable perceptions and reactions and are therefore unjust. Governor Wilson can ensure that battered women incarcerated for killing their abusers receive a full, fair, and principled review of their cases. The governor should recognize the bias in the definitions and application of the law of self-defense that results in more convictions and harsher sentences for battered women. To ensure that justice is done, Governor Wilson should work with the legislature and Board of Prison Terms to release as many battered women in prison as is consistent with the public interest, safety, and welfare through the use of the executive clemency power.

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