New Law Would Toughen Penalties for “Chronic Criminals”

February 24, 2006

While crime has decreased in New York State since 1995, offenders who repeatedly commit misdemeanors continue to plague our streets and communities, often receiving little or no punishment for the crimes they commit. Many of those convicted of misdemeanors have at least one prior conviction, and disturbingly a sizable number have more than 10 prior convictions. These statistics are sobering.

In January 2006, Kareem Hayes admitted to stabbing and murdering Hillary Downey and her one-year old son inside her Schenectady, New York apartment. A habitual offender, Hayes had a lengthy record, including numerous misdemeanor convictions, the most recent committed in January 2005.

Under this bill, which I am co-sponsoring, chronic criminals like Hayes would already be serving up to four years in state prison ensuring that horrific tragedies are prevented.

This legislation creates the new class E felony offense of aggravated criminal conduct and appropriately punishes those who repeatedly commit misdemeanor offenses. Under the bill, an offender who commits a class A misdemeanor after having been previously convicted of three or more qualifying misdemeanors or felonies within the previous 10 years will face up to four years in state prison.

Recognizing the challenges prosecutors may face ensuring that repeat misdemeanor cases are handled properly, the bill also allows criminal history records to be admissible in felony hearings and grand jury proceedings.

It is clear that the current system that has allowed persistent misdemeanor offenders to commit their crimes with minimal or meaningless sanctions is unacceptable. Law-abiding citizens should not be forced to endure allowing chronic misdemeanor offenders to get by with just a slap on the wrist. Like repeat felons, repeat misdemeanor offenders must face stiffer penalties.

My Assembly minority colleagues and I are proud to make public safety our top priority. This common sense measure much like legislation we have advanced to civilly confine violent sexual predators, and strengthen Megan’s Law, will go a long way in protecting all New Yorkers.