On May 9, 2023, Davis Polk secured a precedent-setting victory on behalf of our pro bono client Taylor Partlow, a survivor of life-threatening domestic violence. The Appellate Division, Fourth Department resentenced our client under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) to less than time served, removing over three years from her sentence and making her immediately eligible for release. Davis Polk associate Nikolaus Williams argued the appeal before the Fourth Department on April 3, 2023, with the entire team, Ms. Partlow’s parents and advocates from Willow Domestic Violence Center in Rochester, NY in the courtroom.

The New York legislature enacted the DVSJA in May 2019 to allow judges discretion to consider the impact of domestic violence when sentencing a defendant who was the victim of substantial abuse that was a significant contributing factor to her crime. A few days after the law went into effect, our client was convicted of first-degree manslaughter for stabbing her abusive boyfriend a single time during a domestic violence incident in which he had violently attacked her and was lunging at her again – with a criminal court order of protection in effect, prohibiting him from being in her presence. Although multiple witnesses testified at trial about numerous domestic violence incidents they had seen Ms. Partlow’s boyfriend perpetrate against her – including acts of strangulation, a predictor of domestic violence femicide – the trial court declined to sentence her under the DVSJA. The trial court held that the abuse she had suffered was not substantial and that it was not a significant contributing factor to her crime. The Fourth Department opinion unanimously held that the trial court erred in finding that the statutory elements of the DVSJA had not been met. In addition, rather than remanding the case to the trial court for resentencing, the Fourth Department took the notable step of resentencing Ms. Partlow itself.

The decision is the first DVSJA opinion in the Fourth Department and therefore sets an important precedent, which should help countless domestic violence survivors petitioning for relief in the future.

The Davis Polk team includes senior counsel Robert B. Fiske, Jr. and Denis J. McInerney, counsel and Head of Pro Bono Litigation Dara Sheinfeld, associates Nikolaus Williams, Corey M. Meyer, Josh Pitkoff, Emma Schwartz, and Sarah M. Bartlett, legal assistant Mya Gelber, former associate Christine LiCalzi and former law clerk Hugh Verrier. Professional Responsibility Counsel Jerome G. Snider provided invaluable assistance in preparation for oral argument.

Steven Haber, Litigation and Pro Bono Counsel in Bloomberg L.P.’s Legal and Compliance Department; Garrard R. Beeney, Partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP; Kate Mogulescu, Professor of Clinical Law at Brooklyn Law School, David Crow, Associate Appellate Counsel at Legal Aid Society; Alexandra Mitter, Senior Appellate Counsel at Center for Appellate Litigation; and Ross Kramer and Nicole Fidler, Director, Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivor Initiative and Director of Pro Bono (respectively) at Sanctuary for Families all provided invaluable assistance throughout the briefing process. Duane Morris LLP submitted a critical amicus brief on behalf of New York State legislators, which was referenced in the decision. On behalf of our client, Davis Polk is enormously grateful to all of these incredible attorneys who contributed to this life-changing victory.

Learn more about Davis Polk’s Pro Bono program.