After a four-day trial, a San Francisco jury acquitted Marlise Paulo, 25, of driving under the influence, deciding she had no other choice but to get behind the wheel after a night of drinking so that she could escape the man who was attacking her.
On Sept. 8, 2013, Paulo, an Oroville resident, was in San Francisco to watch the 49ers game with her boyfriend for his birthday. Her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Abe Abed, said that Paulo and her boyfriend started the night drinking at a pub and finished their boozing at the Crazy Horse Gentlemen's Club on Market Street. There, the bouncer booted Paulo's boyfriend from the club for being hostile.
And that's when the trouble began.
With a history of domestic violence and abuse against his girlfriend, he began shouting at Paulo outside of the bar, claiming that she was siding with the bouncer instead of defending him. Paulo retreated to her hotel room where she fell asleep and awoke to her boyfriend at the door. She testified that when she opened up the door he threw her against the nightstand, giving her a black eye and a wounded scalp.
Bleeding from the head, Paulo grabbed her car keys and ran from the room; her boyfriend chased after her down the hall. She hid in a hotel bathroom and locked herself inside. Her boyfriend continued pounding at the door. When he stopped, she eventually peeked outside to see he was gone.
Then she bolted.
"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," he added.
After escaping to her vehicle, her boyfriend pursued her, knocking on the windows and threatening her. "Fearing for her life, she had no other option but to drive off," Abed argued.
Paulo drove several blocks before she was pulled over by California Highway Patrol officers for turning the wrong way down Byant Street, a one-way street. To protect her boyfriend who was on felony parole, Paulo told the officers that she hit her head and that's how she got those abrasions. Suspicious by her story, they flagged down San Francisco cops who treated her and arrested her on suspicion of DUI.
Nancy Lemon, a UC Berkeley Law lecturer, testified that Paulo suffered from battered woman syndrome, causing her to lie to authorities to protect her abusive partner. The front desk clerk at the hotel where Paulo was staying also testified that she witnessed the victim leave in distress.
She added that Paulo's boyfriend inquired at the front desk about her whereabouts shortly afterward.
"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."
Paulo has since left her boyfriend, who was never arrested, and is reportedly making a fresh start.