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Criminalized Survivors Deserve Sentencing Reform

This article, written by Academy of Lifelong Learning featured expert Professor Leigh Goodmark, was published in The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 5, 2022.

Although it might sound counterintuitive to some, sentencing reform is necessary to effectively address intimate partner violence and support victims.

To start with, sentencing reform benefits criminalized survivors, victims of violence convicted of crimes related to their own victimization. Sometimes the victims of these crimes are their abusive partners; sometimes the crimes are committed at the behest of, or under duress from, their abusive partners.

Mandatory-minimum sentences are partly to blame for the substantial number of survivors who choose to plead guilty rather than face trial. Confronting the possibility of long terms in prison and “trial penalties” assessed for failing to plead guilty if they are convicted, women take pleas even in cases where they might have credible defenses. They take pleas so that they can get home to their children sooner, to protect their children from having to testify, and because they think they will not be believed.

The Domestic Violence Survivors’ Justice Act (DVSJA), passed in 2019, provides some relief from harsh mandatory minimums and creates a mechanism for reconsidering draconian sentences in some cases. But the DVSJA does not reach all of New York’s criminalized survivors.

Read the complete article in the Gotham Gazette.

Leigh Goodmark, JD, is the Marjorie Cook Professor of Law, director of the Clinical Law Program, and director of the Gender Violence Clinic at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Her latest book, “Imperfect Victims: Criminalized Survivors and the Promise of Abolition Feminism” was released in January 2023.