Minnesota House Committee Advances Bill Spearheaded by Law School's Clemency Project Aimed at Lower Sentences for Abuse Victims

Over two days, March 3 and March 8, 2022, the Minnesota House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee held informational hearings on a bill spearheaded by the Law School's Clemency Project, sponsored by Representative Athena Hollins, and supported by a diverse coalition of non-profit organizations and individuals.  The bill, entitled "Survivors Justice Act," encourages sentencing leniency for those defendants whose crimes were committed as a result of domestic abuse, sexual assault or sex trafficking.  It also includes a novel "second look" provision, that would permit abuse victims currently serving sentences to return to court to petition for a resentencing.

On March 3, 2022, Clemency Project client Samantha Hodges, who had been granted clemency from the Minnesota Board of Pardons in December 2021, testified in support of the bill.  She told the House committee that shortly after giving birth in the bathtub of her apartment, she drowned her newborn out of fear that her abusive boyfriend would kill them both. Heiges attempted suicide a few days later.  Expressing gratitude for the second chance she received from the Pardon Board, which cut her sentence by over four years, she added: "I live with the consequences of my actions every day, and I offer up each day in atonement.  There are others just like me who have committed crimes in the context of, and as a result of, their experience of an abusive relationship."

On March 8, the hearing continued.  Kendra Saathof ('22) testified before the Committee, laying out the framework of the proposed legislation and also situating it in Minnesota's historical role as a leader in sentencing reform.  Professor JaneAnne Murray, director of the Clemency Project, answered law maker's questions about the bill.  Katie Kramer, Policy Director of Violence Free Minnesota, and Nicole Matthews, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition, also testified in support of the bill. 

A majority of the Committee voted to support the bill and move it forward to hearings before the Judiciary Committee.