Success stories

Freed after over 27 years in prison, Wanda Brown (L) with one of her pro bono attorneys, Erin Smit



Between 2002 and 2012, the Habeas Project matched over 80 incarcerated domestic violence survivors with pro bono attorneys.  Due to the efforts of these attorneys, 42 survivors serving life sentences in California have been released.  Of these survivors, 17 have been released through the habeas process, 25 through the parole process, and 2 through other means.


The Habeas Project advocated for a number of legislative changes that have increased justice for incarcerated survivors, including those listed below.

        • AB 784 (2003) – In its initial form, §1473.5 required that a survivor file her habeas petition by January 1, 2005.  AB 784 extended the sunset clause to January 1, 2010, allowing more women to seek relief under §1473.5.
        • SB 1385 (2004) – Based on our initial efforts to find survivors eligible for relief under §1473.5, the Habeas Project realized that the law was too was restrictive.  In response, we began to pursue an ambitious goal: to draft and win passage for legislation to make more survivors eligible for habeas relief.  SB1385 expanded the scope of §1473.5, allowing survivors convicted of any violent felony that occurred before August 29, 1996 to petition the court for relief if they did not have expert testimony on battering and its effects during their original trial court proceedings and it seemed reasonable that such testimony would have made a difference in the outcome of the case.
        • AB 2306 (2008) – AB 2306 extended the sunset clause from January 1, 2010 to January 1, 2020.
        • AB 593 and AB 1593 (2012) –  In its current form, §1473.5 applies to survivors who had some expert testimony on intimate partner battering and its effects during their initial trial court proceedings, no matter how inadequate or incomplete that testimony.  AB 593 corrects this injustice, making women who did not have access to competent and substantial expert testimony eligible for habeas relief.  It would also remove the sunset clause from §1473.5.  AB 1593 makes several improvements to the parole process for incarcerated survivors.  In particular, it would ensure that the Board of Parole Hearings gives appropriate consideration to evidence of intimate partner battering and its effects and would make the parole process more transparent.


For the ten-year span of it’s existence, Habeas Project representatives reached thousands of people through speaking engagements and presentations at law schools, colleges, and conferences about the Habeas Project and the issue of incarcerated survivors.

LSPC closed the Habeas Project in 2012, after securing the release of over 40 women.