With support from the Correctional Association of New York, the Junior League and advocates for victims of domestic violence, two New York legislators are promoting legislation that would allow judges to issue reduced sentences to domestic abuse victims who commit violent crimes in self-defense.
If passed, the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act would allow victims of domestic violence to receive shorter prison terms or alternative sentencing when convicted of crimes directly related to their abuse. Also, because the proposed law would apply retroactively, domestic violence victims currently serving time for convictions related to their abuse would be eligible to petition the court for re-sentencing.
For a victim of domestic violence to be eligible for reduced sentencing under the proposed law, he or she must demonstrate that each of the following three criteria are met:
- At the time of the crime, the defendant was the victim of substantial physical, sexual or psychological abuse by a relative, spouse or intimate partner
- The abuse was a significant factor in the crime
- Applying standard sentencing provisions would be unduly harsh
If the law is passed, over 200 women per year may be eligible for alternate sentencing when convicted of violent crimes directly related to their domestic abuse, the director of the Women in Prison Project at CANY told the Buffalo Law Journal. Of the approximately 2,000 women currently in state prisons, according to CANY, fewer than 175 could have their sentences reduced under the proposed law.
Opponents of the legislation argue that domestic violence victims already receive consideration when convicted of crimes related to their abuse, for instance by being charged with manslaughter instead of murder. Some people also argue that the proposed law may offer a “free pass” for criminal defendants in situations that were not truly a matter of self-defense.
However, as pointed out by the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, the law would give judges discretion to decide whether or not to grant a petition for reduced sentencing. Without sufficient evidence that a reduced sentence is warranted, Hassell-Thompson said, frivolous petitions would be thrown out while legitimate arguments would be given consideration.
Domestic violence victims charged with violent crimes committed in self-defense should seek help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help defend their rights and fight to minimize the negative consequences of the charges.