Filmed over the course of six years, “Crime After Crime” follows the dramatic legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, a survivor of domestic violence who spent more than 26 years in prison.
In 1983, Debbie Peagler was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder, despite many factors indicating that she should not have been charged with the crime in the first place. But Debbie’s case is not one of mistaken identity or a matter of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, Debbie was a victim of domestic violence who had tried to escape her abuser many times, even turning to police (who were of little help). When two men who Debbie had asked to protect her killed her abuser, she was charged with first-degree murder and threatened with the death penalty.
To avoid that sentence, Debbie entered a guilty plea so that she would “only” be sentenced to life in prison, and not the death penalty. With only a slim chance at being released on parole, Debbie never thought she would see her two daughters outside of prison again – until a new law offered a ray of hope. Two decades after her incarceration began, California became the first state to allow domestic violence cases like Debbie’s to be reopened.
Two land use attorneys (Joshua Safran and Nadia Costa) decided to take on her case pro bono. They soon uncovered a trail of prosecutorial misconduct that began with Debbie’s arrest and continue to the present day. Their discoveries sent Debbie’s case into the headlines and launched a movement that not only advocated for her own freedom, but also raised a banner for battered women and the wrongfully imprisoned around the globe.
Over 80% of the 120,000 women in U.S. prisons are victims of rape, incest or other forms of abuse. Yet, California remains the only state that allows incarcerated victims of abuse to petition for their freedom. But now similar laws are now brewing in five states including New York, where it looks poised to pass.
Directed by Yoav Potash
Synopsis by Sidney Hillman Foundation
CRIME AFTER CRIME (Website)