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Title: Sexual and Physical Abuse Resource Center (SPARC) History and Documents
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Title: Sexual and Physical Abuse Resource Center (SPARC) History and Documents
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Movement for Clemency

...a current issue for SPARC


The movement for clemency is an important issue today because of the

growing problem of domestic violence and the number of women in prison for

capital crimes believed to be related to domestic abuse.

The clemency movement stems from the history of domestic violence. "Male

violence against women is at least as old an institution as marriage," says clinical

psychologist Gus Kaufman Jr. {3}. Until the 1970s, the time of the first wave of

legal reform, an aggravated assault against a stranger was a felony but assaulting a

spouse was considered a misdemeanor {3}. According to a 1990 gender-bias

study completed by the Florida Supreme Court, police seldom arrest domestic

violence offenders even when there are injuries serious enough to warrant

hospitalization of the victim. "Domestic violence is not seen as a crime. A man's

home is still his castle. There is a system that really believes that women should be

passive in every circumstance," says Linda Osmundson, co-chair of a battered

wives' task force for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence {3}. Last year

the American Medical Association, backed by the Surgeon General, said that violent

men constitute a major threat to women's health. A 1988 Surgeon General's report

listed domestic violence as the No. 1 cause of injury to women {6}. Researcher and

author Angela Browne points out that "a woman is much more likely to be killed by

her partner than to kill him." {3} Statistics show that in 1991, when approximately 4

million women were beaten and 1,320 murdered in domestic attacks, 622 women

killed their husbands or boyfriends {3}.

In 1991, Gov. Lawton Chiles and the Cabinet established a policy to expedite











the deciding of cases involving spouse-abuse victims who have killed their

husbands or boyfriends. They created three battered-woman syndrome panels to

review spouse-abuse cases and make recommendations {1}. These panels were

intended to help Florida's clemency board consider the battered spouse syndrome

in appeals by abuse victims convicted of murdering their abusers {2}. Those

seeking clemency under the new rule were required to present evidence of a history

of abuse that led them to kill the abuser. Florida law does not specifically provide

for a battered spouse defense in court but this type of evidence has been used

successfully in self-defense pleas {2}. The new procedures were set to take effect

Jan. 1, 1992. Under the new procedure, clemency cases will be reviewed by a

three-member panel, including a court representative, a medical or psychological

expert and a member with specialized knowledge of abuse cases {2}. A revision,

effective January 1992, of Florida's domestic violence laws allowed the laws to

apply to unmarried couples. The new law also redefined family to include people

who are living or have lived together as a family, or who have a child together {5}.

In 1991, the law applied only to spouses or former spouses. The law also expanded

the definition of domestic violence to include any criminal offense that causes injury

or death to any family member {5}. The law provided that a copy of domestic

violence police reports be sent to the nearest certified domestic violence center

within 24 hours.

Currently, Florida is pushing forward with the clemency movement. On

March 11, 1993, Gov. Lawton Chiles and four of Florida's six Cabinet members

conditionally commuted the 15-year sentence of Kimberly Bliss Soubielle, who was

convicted of second-degree murder { 1}. "This action is a recognition that battering

of women is a tragic reality that affects women in every walk of life," Chiles said { 1}.











Soubielle's sentence was not revoked but changed with conditions. She was placed

on probation for 15 years and is required to obtain therapy for herself and her

daughter as conditions of her clemency. Soubielle served five years of her sentence

{1}. Offering women clemency is not the same as amnesty because the

punishment is reduced though the act is not excused. Soubielle was the first to gain

clemency through Florida's new 1991-1992 procedures. Approximately 26 other

states have also joined the national movement to re-examine the cases of abuse

victims who kill their abusers {3}.

The clemency movement is not without its critics, however. Many who

oppose the clemency laws point out that many domestic disputes are more

complicated and not as easy to decide as advocates of clemency suggest.

Opposers of the clemency movement also suggest that society should not be

sending the message that killing abusers is justified {6}. The opposition does not

feel that the victims should be blamed, but neither should they be justified. The

Soubielle case in Florida drew criticism from police, prosecutors, the Parole Board

and two Cabinet members { 1}. The criticism in this case, as well as many others,

concerned the Cabinet's role in second-guessing the jury or the court that rendered

the conviction. Opponents are concerned that this invites manipulation by

prisoners {3}. Critics point to one woman in Maryland who was released and later

boasted about having actually committed the crime {3}. Some critics have

sounded an alarm because they think anyone in a penitentiary who sees this as a

possible way out will claim that they too were a victim of domestic abuse.

The future implications of the clemency movement are varied. A new

movement for more preventive measures has been taken up in many states. This

movement suggests increased penalties for federal sex crimes; increased monies to











police, prosecutors and courts to combat violent crimes against women; and

reinforcement of state domestic violence laws. States could also watch California's

newest bill that would allow victims of domestic violence to invoke a justifiable

homicide defense in the killings of their attackers. Under this new bill, defendants

claiming justifiable homicide defense would have to produce independent evidence

demonstrating that they had been repeatedly beaten, raped or sodomized and

imprisoned by their spouses or domestic partners {4}. They would also have to

show that they honestly believed that they or their children were in "imminent

danger" of death or injury at the hands of the abuser. Florida is among the many

states on the forefront of the clemency issue, but there is still room for growth in

this area.










BIBLIOGRAPHY


1. Associated Press. "Battered Wife Gets Clemency," The Florida Times-Union, 11
March 1993, sec. a, p.1+.

2. Associated Press. "Clemency to Consider Battered Syndrome Now," The Florida
Times-Union, 19 December 1991, sec. b, p. 3.

3. Gibbs, Nancy. "'Til Death Do Us Part," Time, 18 January 1993, 39-45.

4. Ingram, Carl. "Senate OKs Bill Allowing Claim of Justifiable Homicide," Los
Angeles Times, 19 June 1993, sec. a, p. 26.

5. Ross, Lila. "Revision Will Help Battered," The Florida Times-Union, 1 January
1992, sec. b, p. 1.

6. Siegel, Suzie. "Battered Women Behind Bars," Tampa Tribune, 15 February
1993.




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