On Sunday, the office of French president Francois Hollande announced that he had extended a pardon to a woman who had been sentenced to 10 years in jail for the violent killing of her husband. The reduction of Jacqueline Sauvage’s prison sentence was a rare display of Presidential pardon in France, but the fact that she had suffered decades-long abuse at her husband’s hand had garnered much public support for the move.
In October 2012 Jacqueline Sauvage received the 10-year sentence after killing her husband, Norbert Marot, by shooting him in the back three times with a hunting rifle. The two had been married for 47 years, and during that time it was alleged that Sauvage, her three daughters, and her son were all victims of the violent alcoholic, who she said raped and beat them often. Sauvage’s breaking point came one day after her son hanged himself. After her appeal on the grounds of self defense was rejected, one year after her conviction, her daughter began a campaign to gain a presidential pardon.
The petition also had an online element that attracted over 400,000 signatures from persons demanding the woman’s release, and she had become something of a celebrity. The president’s office released a statement regarding the pardon that gave insight into the reason the president chose to use this aspect of his power.
“Faced with exceptional human circumstances, the President of the Republic wished to enable Ms Sauvage to be reunited with her family as quickly as possible.”
The case has also brought some much needed attention to the definition of self defense under French law and cast a spotlight on the controversial legal defense known as “battered woman syndrome”. Members of the group Osez le Feminisme (Dare To Be Feminist) have actually called for an expanse of the definition of the term self-defence to include “female victims of violence.” According to the Jamaica Observer, under French law, a successful claim of self-defense requires that an act be proportional and in direct response to an act of aggression; a killing done in response to decades of repeated acts of violence did not meet the requirements and thus Sauvage’s claims were unsuccessful.
On January 23, a protest was staged by hundreds of demonstrators who marched through Paris under the banner “Je Suis Jacqueline Sauvage” calling for the jailed woman to be released and last week several members of the female activist group Femen arranged a protest outside of the prison in Saran in north-central France where Sauvage is being held. France 24 also wrote that even politicians weighed in on the request for the presidential pardon and on top of visiting Sauvage in prison they also wrote to the French President asking for leniency in a bid to also promote women’s rights.
The presidential pardon is actually only the second time since assuming power that Hollande has granted a pardon. During his campaign trail, he had sought to distance himself from the presidential power to grant pardons, stating that it was not for him but for a different concept of power. The first time was back in 2013 when he granted a sentence reduction to France’s longest-serving prisoner, Philippe El Shennawy, and he was freed to be released on parole after spending 38 years in jail.
The pardon means that Jacqueline will have a reduction in her sentence that will allow her to seek parole immediately. Sauvage’s lawyers stated that after spending three years in jail the 68-year-old will leave prison in mid-April.
[Photo Courtesy of Thierry Chesnot/ Getty Images]