Legislation Strengthening New York's Domestic Violence Laws Passes Legislature

Increases penalty for repeat misdemeanor offenses to a felony and judges will be required to consider risk factors when setting bail such as an offender's prior violation of an order of protection and access to firearms
June 12, 2012

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) announced that Domestic Violence Protections will be significantly strengthened by comprehensive legislation (A10624) which passed the State Assembly and Senate and will soon be signed into law.

“I applaud Governor Cuomo and my colleagues in the Assembly and Senate for working together on this important agreement,” Assemblyman Englebright said. “Although New York State already has a number of strong domestic violence protections, many domestic violence abusers repeatedly commit low-level offenses, subjecting victims to the stress of continuous fear and potential harm. This multifaceted measure will provide a number of important provisions to help our state better protect victims by breaking the cycle of violence.”

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States and it floods the justice system of New York State. The Surgeon General has also documented that victimization by domestic violence is usually not a single event. Once the first incident of occurs, the victim’s risk of future abuse increases, and this abuse often becomes not only more frequent over time, but more severe. In addition, a child's exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.

This measure will:

  • Create new felony and misdemeanor designations for abusers who commit serial low-level crimes;
  • Allow judge to consider risk factors — such as previous violations and access to firearms — when setting bail or recognizance rules for an accused abuser;
  • Prevent a documented abuser from having control over the remains of their victim;
  • Tighten confidentiality rules for a victim who leaves their abuser, including making it easier for the victim to safely regain important documents without fear of disclosure; and
  • Establish a statewide domestic violence fatality review team, to find ways to reduce fatalities.

Creates New Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes to Prevent Harassment and Crack Down on Repeat Domestic Violence Offenders

The measure increases penalties for domestic violence offenders who repeatedly commit misdemeanor level offenses. The legislation will 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 will 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.

By treating repeat misdemeanor offenses as a felony, this legislation will help to break the cycle of violence by ensuring that repeat offenders are subject to harsher penalties. The aggravated harassment misdemeanor takes effect in 60 days, and the aggravated family offense felony takes effect in 90 days, after the bill becomes law.

Allows Judges to Consider Additional Risk Factors in Determining Bail to Better Protect Victims from Further Harm

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 return to stalk, harm and sometimes kill their victims.

Under this legislation, 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. These considerations will help ensure that domestic violence victims are spared additional harm and, in some tragic incidences, their lives. This part of the legislation would take effect 60 days after the bill becomes law.

Ensures That Domestic Violence Offenders Can Not Control Disposition of a Victim's Remains

Individuals who have been charged with causing the death of, 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. This legislation 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.

This provision would take effect 30 days after the bill becomes law.

Establishes Statewide Fatality Review Team to Find New Ways to Reduce Intimate Partner Homicides

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.

Preventing Further Abuse

Under this legislation, victims of domestic violence will be better able to keep their whereabouts confidential from offenders. The agreement enhances the ability of victims to shield their location by using a substitute mailing address maintained by the Department of State (DOS). Under this program, state and local governments must accept the substitute address, with extremely narrow exceptions, and DOS will forward mail on to participants' actual addresses. This part of the bill would take effect immediately.

The legislative framework also allows victims of domestic violence who seek medical and mental health services to have their insurance claims, forms, or billing correspondence sent to a confidential address. Too often, the address of the insurance policyholder is the same address as the alleged abuser. The legislation would allow victims to designate alternative contact information so they may receive health insurance correspondence in a safe location of their own choosing, such as the home of a friend or family member, a post office box, or a shelter.

This part of the bill would take effect on January 1, 2013.