SAN ANTONIO – A bill that, if enacted, would become a first-of-its-kind law in Texas, would forge a clear path to clemency for survivors of trafficking or family violence who have ended up in prison.
The law could help someone who committed violence while defending themselves or a family member from abuse.
"I had to defend myself against an abusive ex-boyfriend in 2004, and I was arrested," said Dr. Cathy Marston, who now lives in the San Antonio area.
While in prison, Marston created the nonprofit Free Battered Texas Women.
"If you've defended yourself or defended a child, a third party under imminent harm, you're not supposed to have been arrested in the first place," she said.
Her main goal is to see legislation just like state House Bill 3077, which was filed about six weeks ago.
The bill would create a new clemency review panel that would look specifically at cases involving survivors of abuse and trafficking who ended up in prison.
"All they see is the type of charge without the facts that go with that, so you really have to have people who are experienced," Marston said.
The review panel would have to include:
A formerly incarcerated survivor
A behavioral health care specialist
A representative from departments like Family and Protective Services and State Health Services, as well as representatives from organizations that prevent human trafficking or provide advocacy for victims or law enforcement agencies.
The experienced board members would be able to best determine whether or not a person should have ended up in jail for their crime.
The board would also develop a new application process and form for people applying for clemency.
On April 4, Marston testified in front of the House Corrections Committee.
"I had dreamed about testifying to the legislature when I was in prison. It was one of those things that kept me going," she said.
Her dream now is to see HB 3078 become law.
The bill was unanimously voted through the House Corrections Committee and will now go to the House floor.
If passed, the law would go into effect Sept. 1, and the board would have to be appointed by Dec. 1.