San Francisco, CA — A bleeding and bruised woman who fled her attacker after a night of drinking was acquitted of dui penalties after a jury determined it was necessary for her to drive away in order to escape grave harm, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
After deliberating four hours, a jury on Wednesday afternoon found Oroville resident Marlise Paulo, 25, not guilty of driving under the influence and driving with a .08 blood alcohol level or above, both misdemeanors. If convicted, Paulo faced up to a year in jail, fines and revocation of her driver’s license, said her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Abe Abed.
Paulo, who was arrested Sept. 8, 2013, had been visiting San Francisco with her boyfriend to attend a 49ers game and celebrate the boyfriend’s birthday. The couple left their car in a lot near their hotel at 6th and Minna streets and went out for the evening, first having drinks at a pub and then the Crazy Horse Gentlemen’s Club on Market Street. The night began to sour at the strip club, where bouncers ejected Paulo’s boyfriend for becoming belligerent when asked to stop spitting chewing tobacco onto the floor.
Outside, he turned his aggression toward his girlfriend, grabbing Paulo and shouting while accusing her of taking the bouncers’ side. Paulo walked back to the hotel alone and fell asleep. She awoke to her boyfriend pounding on the door.. When she opened it, she testified, he grabbed her and threw her into the night stand, lacerating her scalp and blackening her eye.
Bleeding from the head, Paulo grabbed her car keys and ran from the room. Her boyfriend chased her down the hall, where she locked herself into the hotel’s shared bathroom. Paulo’s boyfriend began pounding on the door, she said. When the pounding subsided, Paulo peeked out to ensure her attacker had retreated, and then hurried to her car.
“It was after midnight. Ms. Paulo was three hours from home in an unsafe area of the city where she knew no one,” Abed said. “She ran to the only place she could think of for safety, her car.”
As she sat in her parked vehicle, her boyfriend approached and began pounding on the windows and threatening to beat and kill her, she testified.
“Fearing for her life, she had no other option but to drive off,” Abed said. Paulo drove slowly for four blocks before turning the wrong way onto Bryant, a one-way street. She was pulled over by California Highway Patrol officers, who immediately noticed her injuries and suspected domestic violence.
Fearful of retribution and in an effort to protect her boyfriend, who was on felony probation, Paulo told police she had accidentally hit her head against a wall. Still suspicious, the CHP officers flagged down San Francisco police to conduct a domestic violence investigation. Paulo repeated to SFPD officers that she was not the victim of an attack. She was arrested after being treated by paramedics.
During the four day trial, Nancy Lemon, UC Berkeley Law lecturer and leading authority on domestic violence, testified that Paulo suffered from battered woman syndrome and had a clear history of being abused physically and emotionally by her boyfriend over several years.
Lemon testified that being the victim of sustained abuse results in behavior that may seem counter-intuitive, such as lying to protect one’s attacker rather than seeking help from authorities. From the couple’s history and the boyfriend’s violent criminal past, Lemon concluded that the threat to Paulo’s life was extremely high.
The front desk clerk from the couple’s hotel also took the stand, testifying that Paulo left the hotel visibly upset. A short time later, he testified, Paulo’s boyfriend asked the clerk if Paulo had left. San Francisco police also responded to the hotel, but left after learning Paulo’s boyfriend was not there. The clerk offered to show the officers surveillance footage from the hotel’s multiple cameras, but they declined, he testified.
“The law says if you act out of legal necessity, you cannot be convicted of a crime,” Abed said. “I cannot think of a clearer example of necessity than a battered woman fleeing from her abuser. The jury was able to recognize what the district attorney would not, that Ms. Paulo was a victim that night, not a criminal.”
Adachi said justice was served by the jury.
“Ms. Paulo was a crime victim who was acting in an emergency,” Adachi said. “Fortunately, the law recognizes that sometimes you have to decide between two bad options in order to survive.”
Paulo has since left her boyfriend and is enjoying a fresh start.
“For the first time in my life, I fought back, and it feels great,” she said.