Did you know there’s a clemency application for Texas abuse, trafficking survivors wanting pardons?

Few have applied, so advocates are trying to spread the word while simplifying application process

SAN ANTONIO – Many trafficking and domestic violence survivors end up behind bars for crimes they committed on behalf of or in response to their survivors.

That’s why advocates have worked tirelessly over the years to create a process for those survivors to be granted pardons.

Dr. Cathy Marston is one of those advocates. Years ago, Marston served time in prison for crimes she said were directly related to her abuser.

“It’s been a real nightmare. The emotions of having the cuffs slapped on you instead of your abuser,” she said.

Marston was thrilled in February 2020, when Gov. Greg Abbott announced a path to clemency for survivors. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles created a clemency application specifically for survivors of abuse and trafficking.

“It’s meant to provide an option years later when there’s still fresh evidence of the abuse,” said Elizabeth Henneke, who founded the nonprofit Lone Star Justice Alliance, or LSJA, to reduce incarceration rates.

Henneke said there are many examples of those who qualify for clemency.

“One of the clients we’re working with now is actually a child. She was trafficked from the age of 11-14, placed into the juvenile justice system as a runaway and subsequently got deeper involved in the system. Her crimes would be eligible for a pardon because they were all directly tied to her initial trafficking and her trafficker was involved in the crime,” Henneke said. “Another example, one of our existing clients, she was asked to sell drugs by a man who had been engaged with domestic violence with her over a course of six years. She’d actually lost a child as a result of the abuse,” she said.

LSJA has prioritized the survivor clemency process and created an array of services as soon as the survivor application became available last year.

“We have trained over 200 pro bono attorneys who are willing and able to provide support to survivors who would like to complete what can be an intimidating, arduous process,” she said.

Marston said the best thing about the attorneys is that they have trauma-informed training. So they’re not only knowledgeable about the specific application process, they are aware of how to avoid triggering a survivor during that process.

“There’s a lot of detail that’s wanted, and we don’t want this to be another traumatizing experience for survivors who have already been though so much,” Marston said.

There is an application process through the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and another application if survivors want to use one of the LSJA’s free attorneys.

“It’s been daunting,” Marston said, who is filling out an application of her own.

Marston and Henneke are working to update and condense both applications.

“Even our baseline application seemed to be too intimidating, so I know we are simplifying our process and asking the board to simplify theirs,” Henneke said.

They believe that’s why only 50 survivors have applied for clemency since last February.

“Unfortunately about 75% of them did not complete the application fully, so we’re actually working with the board to see if they’ll refer those individual applicants to us so we can enhance their current applications,” Henneke said.

About five survivors have been pardoned since February 2020. Henneke said it’s definitely a start, but a lower number than expected.

“We’re hopeful that by the end of this year we’ll get 200 people who have applied. We anticipate the need is in the thousands of people who would qualify,” Henneke said.

Marston wants other survivors to know about the peer support network that’s also being provided by the Texas Women’s Justice Coalition to help walk applicants through the process and help with any issues that come up.

She is currently training to become one of those peer supporters to help other survivors through the process and find a clear way to clemency.

“There are the collateral consequences of incarceration,” Marston said.

She has had difficulty getting housing and jobs and while she fights for her own clemency, she wants to help others get theirs too.

If you are a survivor of abuse or trafficking and want to apply for clemency, you can find the application on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles website.

If you want a free attorney trained to help with the application process, contact the Lone Star Justice Alliance at 512-394 -5791 or contact@lsja.org. You can find their application form for a pro bono attorney on their website.

About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

Recommended Videos