NYS Seal For Immediate Release:
March 6, 2007


Assembly Gives Final Legislative Passage to
Civil Commitment Bill

Speaker Sheldon Silver and Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol today announced the Assembly gave final legislative passage to A.6162, which provides for the civil commitment of New York's worst sex offenders.

"Like every parent, I have strong feelings about how to punish sexual predators for robbing children of their innocence and forcing their victims to endure suffering and insecurity for the rest of their lives. This legislation not only implements civil commitment, but includes enhanced parole supervision and mandated treatment," said Silver (D-Manhattan).

"This legislation enacts a comprehensive program for the management of persons convicted of felony sex offenses and authorizes, when necessary, additional court-ordered conditions of supervision or further confinement after they have completed their prison terms," said Lentol (D-Brooklyn). "By enacting a system of sex-offender confinement, supervision, management and treatment designed to reduce recidivism and increase public safety, New York has taken important steps towards stopping those individuals who we know will strike again. This historic bill greatly strengthens our sexual predator laws," said Lentol.

The bill calls for the State Attorney General to decide when to seek civil commitment of individuals who have completed a sentence for a sex offense and are determined by a state panel of mental health professionals to suffer from a mental abnormality. If confinement is not ordered, the sex offender will still be under supervision. Other provisions of the bill require:

  • treatment to reduce recidivism of prisoners and the civilly confined;
  • those housed in mental-health facilities to be kept separate from vulnerable mental-health patients; and,
  • civil confinement to be reviewed annually by the courts.

The legislation also toughens penalties for convicted sex offenders by:

  • eliminating the option of parole for felony sex-offenses;
  • providing long-term, post-release supervision for those convicted of sex-offense felonies;
  • moving five existing crimes into the "violent crime" category, including second-degree rape and fourth-degree aggravated sexual abuse; and
  • creating the crime of "Sexually Motivated Felony" in cases where certain other crimes, like burglary or robbery, are committed for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator.

Another bill given final legislative passage today is legislation (A.2012), sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, that would add written communication to the offense of disseminating indecent materials to minors. The bill improves current law by punishing the sending of descriptions, as well as depictions of nudity to a child through the Internet to solicit sexual contact.

In addition, the Assembly will be advancing its Child Safety and Sexual Predator Punishment and Confinement Strategy, a comprehensive, effective approach to protecting New Yorkers from sexual predators.

Silver said the package would prevent sexual assault before it occurs, mandate in-prison treatment, toughen penalties and enact a range of other measures to control and closely monitor those convicted of sex offenses.

Silver and Lentol noted the Assembly Majority's criminal-justice plan follows a series of public hearings and public roundtable meetings.

"Developed in concert with prosecutors, mental-health professionals and victims' rights advocates, the Assembly Majority's Child Safety and Sexual Predator Punishment and Confinement Strategy continues our fight to enact tough, smart laws that truly protect our communities," Lentol said.

Following Assembly passage of this broad, anti-crime legislative package last session, Silver called on the chairs of the committees on codes, correction and mental health to convene public discussions to evaluate the best means by which New York laws can be changed to provide a stronger, more certain means to protect the public from sex offenses.

The lawmakers noted that over the past decade, New York has enacted strong laws to punish sex offenders and other violent criminals and to bolster the control and supervision of offenders after longer prison terms are completed. Among the new laws are statutes that provide life sentences for certain twice-convicted child sex offenders, increase penalties for statutory rape, create a new "date rape" crime that makes proving rape significantly easier, eliminate the statute of limitations -- allowing an unlimited period of time for the prosecution of Class B felony sex offenses -- and enhance the state's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), known as "Megan's Law."

"Our efforts in recent years have been focused on enacting more than 100 new, tough-on-crime laws," said Silver. "These laws have helped reduce violent crime in New York by 51 percent and made New York the safest large state in the nation. But clearly, more needs to de done to safeguard New Yorkers."

"The Assembly has taken the lead in ensuring that sound public policy is formulated in an open, public process with the goal of implementing sensible, effective legislation. Garnering expert opinion as well as giving citizens a greater voice in the development of critical legislation continues the Assembly Majority's extraordinary efforts to craft solutions that incorporate insights gained through this process. On crucial public policy issues like reviewing the governor's budget and enacting landmark government reforms, the Assembly has relied on these substantive public discussions," said Silver.

Note: Below is a summary of the Civil Commitment Legislation and a description of the bills contained in the legislative package being advanced by the Assembly.

Civil Commitment Legislation (A.6162, Silver/Lentol)

A law would be enacted authorizing civil commitment of sexual offenders after they complete their prison sentences. The law would be structured as follows:

  1. Eligibility:
  2. An offender would be eligible for civil commitment if he or she:
    1. was convicted and is serving a sentence for a felony sex offense, including a "specified felony," such as murder, burglary, or kidnapping determined to be sexually motivated; and

    2. suffers from a mental abnormality which results in a serious difficulty controlling illegal sexual behavior.

    These standards are based on similar laws in effect in 19 states that have enacted civil commitment legislation, and include elements which the United States Supreme Court has held must be included in any constitutional civil commitment law.

  3. Mandatory Sex Offender Treatment
  4. Sex offender treatment must be made available to all inmates serving a sentence for a felony sex offense. Inmates will be assessed for the need for treatment upon admission to prison and treatment must continue for at least six months. Treatment programs will be operated in conjunction with the State Office of Mental Health. Such programs will be consistent with sex offender treatment standards set by the new Office of Sex Offender Management created by the legislation.

  5. Initial Screening
  6. Qualifying offenders who are nearing the completion of their sentences would be screened for possible civil commitment by a case review panel, at least 120 days before their anticipated release. The case review panel will be established by the Commissioner of the Office of Mental Health and will consist of appropriate mental health professionals with experience in sex offender evaluation and treatment. Only if the case review panel determines that the offender is an eligible sex offender who suffers from a mental abnormality, the State Attorney General may file a petition and initiate civil commitment proceedings.

  7. Initial Commitment Petition
  8. The State Attorney General would be authorized to bring a civil commitment petition before the court in the county where the offender is located. The offender can designate the county of conviction for hearings and trial.

  9. Counsel
  10. Indigent offenders subject to potential civil commitment proceedings would be represented by the Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS). If MHLS is not able to accept the case, then the court will appoint other state-paid counsel, either through County Law Art. 18-B or through an entity that has contracted with the state for the delivery of legal services in civil commitment proceedings.

  11. Probable Cause Hearing
  12. After the petition is filed, the court will conduct a hearing, without a jury, to determine whether there was probable cause to hold the offender for trial. In the event that probable cause were not found, the Attorney General could appeal that denial to the Appellate Division.

  13. Psychiatric Examination
  14. The court can appoint two psychiatric examiners to evaluate the offender, one chosen by the Attorney General and one chosen by the offender. Each psychiatric examiner will provide a report to the court and provide testimony in the civil commitment proceeding. All psychiatric examiners shall be free to exercise independent, professional judgment.

  15. Trial
  16. An offender would be subject to civil commitment if found unanimously by a jury by clear and convincing evidence to suffer from a mental abnormality and to be likely to commit a sex offense if not confined or supervised. Following the jury verdict, the judge will determine whether the person should be confined in a secure facility or placed on a regimen of strict and intensive supervision and treatment.

  17. Placement
  18. Offenders would be confined in facilities operated by the State Office of Mental Health. In order to protect vulnerable mental health patients, the statute would require the strict separation of civilly committed sexual offenders from persons with mental disabilities who are housed in mental hygiene facilities.

  19. Court Review
  20. Confined offenders could seek to have their status reviewed by the courts each year. In the event a court finds that confinement is no longer warranted, the person would be released to a regimen of strict and intensive supervision and treatment.

  21. Supervision Process
  22. Offenders ordered to a regimen of strict and intensive supervision, either following trial or following a period of civil confinement, will be under the supervision of the Division of Parole and must comply with conditions set by the court. Conditions of supervision may include electronic monitoring and global positioning satellite tracking, polygraph monitoring and residence restrictions. Persons on supervision who violate the terms of supervision could be returned to confinement.

  23. Tougher Prison Sentences and Extended Periods of Supervision
  24. All offenders convicted of a felony sex offense, including the new "sexually motivated felony," will receive a determinate (non-parole eligible) sentence and will be subject to greatly increased periods of post release supervision, some up to 25 years.

The Assembly's Child Safety and Sexual Predator
Punishment & Confinement Strategy

A Tough, Effective Plan to Safeguard Our Communities

The Assembly's Child Safety and Sexual Predator Punishment and Confinement Strategy would enact a comprehensive program to protect all members of our community against sexual assault. The strategy contains a range of initiatives to:

  • assist victims;
  • further punish and regulate sex offenders;
  • reduce offender recidivism;
  • improve law enforcement; and,
  • strengthen "Megan's Law."

This tough and effective program would build on more than 100 new tough-on-crime laws that have been enacted in recent years. These toughest laws in a generation have helped reduce violent crime in New York by 51 percent and make New York the safest large state in the nation.

In addition to legislation providing life sentences for serious sex crimes, and the historic civil commitment measure agreed to by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and outlined above, a range of additional measures are being proposed by the Assembly. Many of these bills passed the house in 2006 and prior years, but have not been acted on by the state Senate.

Stopping Child Abuse by Mandated Reporters, Including Clergy (A.1336, McEneny)
This bill would require that acts of child abuse committed by any person in a range of professions who are now "mandated reporters" under the Social Services Law, or by any member of the clergy, be promptly reported to police authorities.

Stopping Child Luring (A.1668, Lavelle)
This legislation, which again passed the Assembly in January, 2007, would create a new felony crime for anyone who lures a child to a secluded place for the purpose of committing a sexual or violent crime.

Sexual Abuse Prevention Act (A.3148, Weinstein)
This bill would improve the care provided to victims and help them regain their lives. Specifically, the bill would:

  • require 12 hours of training for police officers in sexual-assault issues;

  • require the state to develop an improved, toll-free, statewide hotline to connect sexual assault victims with a rape crisis center in their area;

  • mandate that Internet service providers give subscribers written notice of the availability of filtering devices that could screen out material harmful to minors; and

  • Direct the Office of Children and Family Services to develop a training curriculum for child protective services workers to be used in investigating reports of sexual abuse.

Determining Sex Offender Program Effectiveness (A.4294, O'Donnell)
This legislation would direct the state Division of Criminal Justice Services to work with outside academic institutions to determine the effectiveness of the state's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA, also known as "Megan's Law"), various sex-offender treatment programs and the sex-offender risk assessment instrument currently used by the Department of Correctional Services in determining "risk levels" under SORA. This review would include evaluation of the performance of these programs in reducing and predicting sexual-predator recidivism and in apprehending sexual offenders.

Mandatory School Curriculum On Avoiding Sexual Assault (A. 3012, John)
This bill would require the development of a mandatory, age-appropriate public school curriculum on how children can protect themselves from sexual assault and abuse. A similar required curriculum currently exists concerning methods to avoid child abduction.

Sex Offender Tracking, Treatment and Electronic Monitoring (A.3581, Sweeney)
This legislation would mandate that local probation departments and the state Division of Parole initiate frequent contact with sex offenders under supervision, and require the electronic monitoring or global positioning (GPS) tracking of Level 3 sex offenders whose crimes involved minors. This more intensive supervision would be for a period of time deemed appropriate by courts or the Division of Parole. The bill would also require that all sex offenders participate in a mandatory sex-offender treatment program.

Extending the Statute of Limitations in Child Sexual Assault Cases (A.4560, Markey)
This bill would extend the authority to prosecute and to bring a civil lawsuit for damages in child sexual abuse cases in significant ways, regardless of whether or not DNA evidence is available.

Under current law, the criminal statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases in which a victim does not report the crime to law enforcement is not applied until the victim reaches age 18. Legislation enacted in 2006 ended the statute of limitations for felony sex crimes class "B" and higher. For crimes against children not addressed by the 2006 law, this bill would add five years to the statute of limitations, so that the five or ten-year statute of limitations in such cases would not begin to run until the victim turned age 23 (extending the time for prosecution until a child victim reached age 28 or, depending on the circumstances, age 33).

  • The same extension would be applied prospectively to the civil statute of limitations.

  • Persons for whom the right to bring a civil action has been foreclosed under the current civil statute of limitations would be given a one-year "window period" from the date of enactment of the bill, regardless of age, within which to bring a lawsuit to recover damages for any past instance of child sexual abuse.

Additional Improvements to SORA ("Megan's Law")

  • A.1188 (Eddington) would require that sex offenders acquitted by reason of insanity to register under Megan's Law after release from custody and in-patient treatment.

  • A1179 (Gunther) would require police officers visit the residence of any sex offender subject to Megan's Law who has not filed a periodic verification form, and obtain up-to-date residence information signed by the registrant.