Assemblywoman Paulin & Senator Gianaris Introduce Legislation to Make Evidence of Prior Sexual Offenses Admissible at Trial

Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris & Assemblywoman Amy Paulin proposal would allow prior sexual assault victims to testify

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New York, NY – Assembly Member Amy Paulin partnered with Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris to introduce legislation A4992 / S9276 allowing Courts to admit evidence of related behavior in sexual assault and rape cases. The recent, successful appeal of Harvey Weinstein highlights the need to update the state’s criminal law to allow victims who have been silenced the ability to come forward. Today, legislators were joined by survivors, including Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, Sara Ziff, and Taralê Wulff, to introduce this important legislation.

“New York State law needs to support survivors of sexual assault and their ability to seek justice,” said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. “Sex offense trials often rest on the testimony of the survivor, whose credibility is then attacked. That’s why patterns of behavior must be allowed as evidence. Sexual assault survivors have already gone through enough trauma. Now that the Weinstein case has been overturned, it’s more important than ever to pass this bill."

“Victims of sexual assault deserve the ability to share their experiences when their abuser is charged with a new sexual offense,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris. “This proposal would help brave survivors tell their stories and bring New York in alignment with federal rules of evidence.”

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said, "In pursuing justice, we cannot allow procedural hurdles to impede the truth. Bill A.4992 is not just about aligning New York's rules with many other states; it's about empowering prosecutors to present crucial evidence in sexual assault cases effectively. The absence of a statutory code of evidence in New York has left us relying on antiquated rules, like the Molineux Rule, which often proves inadequate in the face of heinous crimes like sexual assault. The Harvey Weinstein case underscores the urgency of this reform. By codifying FRE 413, we're not just making a legal adjustment; we're standing up for victims and ensuring their voices are heard in the pursuit of justice. Recidivism rates speak volumes, and we must act decisively. Let us proceed with conviction, knowing we're strengthening our legal framework to serve survivors better and hold perpetrators accountable."

Perpetrators of sexual violence are more likely than the general population to commit a crime again, and more than one third of suspected perpetrators of sexual violence have already been convicted of a previous felony offense. Yet only 6% of rapists serve time in jail, allowing predatory figures to evade justice.

This legislation would ensure that New York courts adopt rules of evidence that allow prosecutors and witnesses to establish a pattern of behavior through similar criminal acts in the past. A jury would still determine the reliability of this evidence and credibility of a defendant.

Over 60% of rapes or assaults are never reported to police. Many victims do not come forward due to legal, political, professional, or cultural pressure that silence them far beyond a statute of limitation.

“When a survivor’s voice is heard in isolation, she or he can be attacked, discredited, shouted down. But when survivors’ voices are heard together, everything changes. New Yorkers need our legislators to act now to bring New York into the 21st century and allow evidence of an abuser’s pattern of conduct to be heard in court,” said Jane Manning, Director of Women’s Equal Justice

"This bill can’t wait. We owe it to the survivors who testified in 2020 and we owe it to every survivor now who is watching and waiting to see how New York responds. This bill allows for the testimony of survivors to establish critical patterns of behavior by offenders in order to offer a jury a complete picture,” said Stefan Turkheimer, RAINN's Vice President of Public Policy.“ This doesn’t only impact the Weinstein reversal, but every future case in New York and every survivor's confidence in the system to come forward."

“At The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, we work with diverse communities struggling to support sexual assault survivors throughout the city. Unfortunately, when the system repeatedly fails to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable, especially perpetrators with more economic power, it sends a loud and clear message to survivors: it's not worth it to come forward,” said Emily Miles, Executive Director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault. “We are proud to stand with NYS Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, Senator Gianaris, and our partner organizations who are working to remove barriers that prevent survivors from attaining justice and accountability. Silence is not an option.”

Chris Lake, Executive Director of Community for a Cause said, “The overturned conviction of Harvey Weinstein does not change what kind of man he really is or what he has done. It does not take away from the bravery of all the survivors who had to relive their trauma in order to put him behind bars in the first place. What it actually does is demonstrate how New York is woefully in need of better laws, better courts, and better systems. We at Community for a Cause will continue to work tirelessly to see the true administration of justice become the norm.” 

Honorable Judy Harris Kluger, Chief Executive Officer for Sanctuary for Families, said, “The Overturning of Harvey Weinstein’s conviction for rape starkly exposes a major deficiency in our legal system’s response to sexual assault: highly probative evidence of perpetrators’ past sexual violence is kept from juries by outmoded legal standards that do not reflect current knowledge about these devastating crimes. Assembly Member Paulin and Senator Gianaris’ bill would remedy this injustice by making evidence of an abuser’s past sexual assaults admissible in sexual violence prosecutions, as long as it is not unfairly prejudicial. Sanctuary for Families strongly supports this legislation, consistent with the progressive evidentiary rules of more than 15 other states and the federal government and urges its swift passage to strengthen survivors’ rights and prevent serial offenders like Weinstein from exploiting procedural gaps to evade justice.”

“We are profoundly disheartened by the Court’s decision to reverse Harvey Weinstein’s case. For survivors to have a chance to achieve justice, these cases should have the ability to include evidence of prior sexual assaults perpetrated by the abuser, said Roby Mazur, Executive Director of the Joyful Heart Foundation. “Overturning this ruling and forcing survivors to endure the retraumatizing effects of another trial will also create a chilling effect on other survivors in the future.”