ALBANY - A robust package of legislation that will improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence while at the same time provide survivors with enhanced protections so they can more safely sever ties with their abusers was signed into law Thursday by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The bill package signed by Governor Cuomo addresses the recidivist nature of domestic violence by holding serial offenders more accountable for their behavior with the creation of a new crime and new considerations when determining bail, and creates a state-level Fatality Review Team to find new ways to prevent intimate partner homicides.
“By strengthening the domestic violence laws, New York is leading the way in protecting victims and prosecuting offenders while demonstrating to the nation that we will not tolerate violence against our families,” said Governor Cuomo. “This new law will make it a felony crime for criminals who repeatedly harm their families and ensure that they can are stopped. I thank Majority Leader Skelos, Speaker Silver and the bill sponsors for working with me to make our state safer for all New Yorkers.”
Domestic violence is a problem of enormous prevalence and impact in both New York State and across the nation. It has been identified by the U.S. Surgeon General as the number one health problem affecting American women, and it floods the justice system of New York State as well as the courts of every other state in the nation.
Research shows that domestic violence offenders most often recidivate against the same victims (70 – 80 percent), and that those in an intimate relationship are more likely to re-offend than those who commit crimes in “other” family relationships. In addition, offenders released without bail had a higher pre-trial recidivism rate than those released on bail, as did those charged with violating an order of protection.
The law creates the Class E felony of Aggravated Family Offense, which enables law enforcement to prosecute as felons defendants who commit certain misdemeanor-level offenses and have a previous conviction for a specified misdemeanor or felony against a family or household member within the past five years. It also expands the definition of the Class A misdemeanor of Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree to include when a defendant, with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm, causes physical injury to an individual, or to a family or household member of that individual.
Although New York State already has a number of strong domestic violence protections, many domestic violence abusers repeatedly commit low-level offenses, which carry minor penalties, enabling them to continue subjecting their victims to fear and harm.
The aggravated family offense takes effect in 90 days and the aggravated harassment misdemeanor and the bail provision take effect in 60 days. The maximum sentence for a class A misdemeanor is one year in local jail; the maximum sentence for a class E felony is up to four years in state prison.