A special screening was held this week at University of Oregon, of the documentary Crime after Crime with introduction and Q/A from one of the attorneys in the film, Joshua Safran. This documentary follows the story of Deborah Peagler, a woman who had been in prison for over 20 years for the murder of her abusive boyfriend. In 2002, a statute in California was passed to allow cases that involved current inmates who were victims of domestic violence to have their cases reopened. Specifically, if evidence wasn’t introduced at the time of the trial that showed that the crime they committed was directly related to them being victims of abuse the case could be looked at again. Crime after Crime is about the first case attempting to apply this statute to release a woman from prison.
Over 80% of women currently in prison were abused by partners before getting arrested and for many women, the abuse they received was a factor in their alleged crimes. Today, California is still the only state in the nation with a statute like this on the books.
Deborah Peagler, the focus of the film, should have been charged with manslaughter, a crime that had a maximum prison sentence of six years. By the time her case was reopened, she had served more than 20 years for first-degree murder. She was sentenced to life in prison in 1983 after years of physical abuse from her boyfriend. This abuse started when she was 16 years old, including forced prostitution, and lasted for six years. When two men decided to help Deborah and scare her abuser off, they ended up killing him. Before trial, the Los Angeles DA’s office threatened Deborah with the death penalty which persuaded Deborah to plead guilty which came with a life in prison sentence. 21 years later, the statute in California passes and Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran, attorneys, agree to take her case pro bono. This documentary shows the realities of the justice system in California and the extremely difficult journey Deborah and her attorneys went through to free her from prison. I recommend this documentary to anyone interested in the criminal justice system or anyone who just loves documentaries!
Feel free to go to their website for more information, crimeaftercrime.com.