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Bill seeks leniency for violence victims

ALBANY -- Kim Dadou spent 17 years in prison for manslaughter for shooting her boyfriend as he choked and threatened her in his car. She had called police several times before and used a gun he kept under the seat to kill him.

She was sentenced to 8 1/3 to 25 years, denied parole five times and released in 2008. Now, New York advocates for female prisoners are pushing legislation to cut sentences for domestic violence victims like Dadou who strike back at abusers or get coerced into committing other crimes.

"When you get caught up in these situations there's no one to protect you," said Dadou, 46, of Rochester. "Orders of protection are just pieces of paper."

Bill supporters argue that abuse victims pose little threat to anyone other than their abusers. They acknowledge the resentencing measures won't pass this year but say the debate should start following a study from Cornell Law School and the Correctional Association that found limited leniency now for "survivor-defendants."

"It is the beginning of the battle," said Assemb. Jeffrion Aubry (D-East Elmhurst), a bill sponsor who chairs the Assembly Committee on Correction. "We think there are mitigating issues here a judge ought to be able to consider in crafting a sentence."

The bills would give judges discretion to cut a sentence for first-degree manslaughter, for example, from 5 to 25 years to 1 to 5 years, or to probation with alternative programs.

Prosecutors said victims already get consideration with lesser charges, like manslaughter instead of murder, and lower sentences than others convicted of serious crimes. Also, most domestic violence victims don't commit violence.

"We're trying to focus more on the front end" with efforts to jail abusers, said Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, president of the state district attorneys' association.

Out of some 2,000 women in state prisons, fewer than 175 could have their sentences cut under the bill, according to the Correctional Association of New York. However, more than 200 women are convicted a year for crimes directly related to their abuse and would be potentially eligible for alternate sentencing, said Tamar Kraft-Solar, director of the association's Women in Prison Project.

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