Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday announced an agreement on legislation to strengthen New York’s domestic violence laws.
The agreement includes a series of measures to protect victims of domestic violence and crack down on repeat offenders. Provisions in the bill include increasing the penalty for a repeat offense to a felony; allowing judges to consider risk factors such as firearm possession and violations of restraining orders in determining bail; and establishing a statewide Fatality Review Team to find new ways to prevent intimate partner homicides.
“With domestic violence remaining a major problem here in New York and across the nation, our state must continue to lead in strengthening laws to better protect victims and crack down on offenders who cause harm to their families,” Governor Cuomo said. “By creating a new felony crime for repeat offenders, the state will come down harder than ever before on those who attack over and over again and ensure that these criminals can no longer hurt their victims. We will never tolerate domestic violence in any form, and I commend Majority Leader Skelos, Speaker Silver, and the bill sponsors for their work in reaching an agreement on this important legislation.”
Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos said, “This agreement builds on our commitment to combat domestic violence and protect innocent victims, which has always been a focus of our Senate Republican conference. Rather than politicize this issue as others have done, we’ve worked cooperatively with the Governor and Assembly to once again show that government can function and deliver on a critically-important issue. I applaud the Governor for his leadership and commend Senator Saland and Senator Golden for helping us achieve a strong bill that will save lives.”
The agreed-upon legislation will provide a number of provisions intended to help New York State better prevent domestic violence and protect victims.
Creates new felony and misdemeanor crimes
The legislation would establish the crime of “Aggravated Family Offense” as a class E felony to ensure that defendants with a history of domestic violence who repeatedly commit misdemeanor offenses are prosecuted as felons. The legislation would also establish a new class A misdemeanor of “Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree”, committed when a defendant, with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm, causes physical injury to an individual or their family or household member.
Allows judges to consider additional risk factors
Under the legislative agreement, courts would be required for the first time to consider certain risk factors when determining recognizance or bail for a defendant who is charged with an offense against a family or household member. Currently, courts are not required to consider any special factors when determining recognizance or bail in a domestic violence case, allowing offenders in some cases to go free on low bail and thereby allowed to stalk, harm and sometimes kill their specifically targeted victims. Under the agreement announced today, judges will be required to consider well established risk factors, such as an offender’s prior violation of an order of protection and the accused’s access to guns.
Establishes statewide fatality review team
Under the legislative agreement, the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence will establish a statewide domestic violence fatality review team. The review team will bring together domestic violence-related professionals to review domestic violence homicides, in an effort to understand more fully the factors involved and determine how the system can be improved in order to help prevent future deaths. The review team would report periodically to the Governor and the Legislature to assist the State and local communities in improving domestic violence prevention measures. The review team would be established 180 days after the bill becomes law.
Ensures that spouse killers do not control victim remains
Under the legislative agreement, individuals who have been charged with causing the death, or who were the subject of a restraining order protecting the deceased person, will not be eligible to exercise control of the disposition of the deceased remains. Current state law details which individuals have the right to control the disposition of remains, without any consideration as to whether the person entitled to exercise such right may have killed the deceased. The agreement today ensures that individuals who exhibit extreme hostility towards a decedent – as evidenced by an order of protection or being the subject of criminal charges arising out of the treatment of such decedent – are barred from planning final funeral and burial arrangements.