BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – When someone is a survivor of domestic abuse or human trafficking, some end up in prison for defending themselves or being forced to commit a crime. A new bill would allow for the context of abuse to be explained in court to be used as evidence and add context by an expert witness.

The Senate Judiciary C Committee heard from women who were sentenced to prison for killing their abusers but weren’t released until many years later through clemency or pardon. They feel their cases would have gone differently if they were able to give context of the severe abuse they experienced before the crime.

“The problem is under the current defenses, there is no real opportunity legally for the jury or the judge to hear all the considerations of abuse outside of the very narrow self-defense standard we have today,” said Stas Moroz, a professor of law at Tulane University.

Advocates for SB215 want survivors of abuse to have a chance to fully explain why they may have committed a crime in the first place.

“But I was doomed, doomed, doomed from the beginning,” said Edna Gibson.

Gibson was sentenced to life in prison by a non-unanimous jury for killing her husband. She had a history of abuse from him and stabbed him to death in 1986. Gov. John Bel Edwards commuted her sentence in 2020.

The law under SB215 would apply to cases of human trafficking where someone could have been forced to commit a crime for fear of being beaten or even killed by their abusers. An expert witness would be called in to explain the abuse to a judge and jury.

“Survivors should never have to choose between prison and death,” said Beatrice Taylor.

Taylor was convicted of killing her romantic partner and was granted clemency by Gov. Edwards and is now on parole.

It also would apply retroactively to allow some old cases to be revisited to bring evidence of abuse being the direct correlation for the crime.

“It doesn’t mean these women would not spend time in prison. It means that she would be charged appropriately, convicted and sentenced appropriately,” said Mary Patricia Wray with Survivors for Reform.

Some members of the District Attorney’s Association have concerns with the bill.

“The post-conviction piece here doesn’t require at all that the victim of the crime for which someone was convicted be the prior abuser of the person who is incarcerated,” said Jacob Johnson with the District Attorney’s Association.

They also want the definition of expert witness to be better defined.

Barrow agreed to continue to work on the language of the bill with the district attorneys as it now heads to the full Senate.