Domestic Violence Survivors Act Will Do Little To Help Survivors

Democrats in the state Legislature are sending legislation to Gov. Andrew Cuomo trumpeting their intention to support survivors of domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act would allow judges to sentence survivors of domestic violence who are then convicted of a crime to an alternative sentence of imprisonment, including community-based alternative to incarceration programs. The bill would also provide domestic violence survivors who were convicted of a crime currently in prison the ability to apply for resentencing, granting relief to incarcerated individuals who pose no threat to public safety.

It’s unclear why this law is needed in the first place. Current law already allows judges discretion when sentencing a domestic violence survivor who commits a crime while acting in self-defense. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, said the Domestic Violence Survivors Act, as written, could allow such sentencing discretion to be extended to cases that don’t involve crimes where abuse is a factor, and as such ignores the rights of an innocent victim and undercuts the deterrent impact of criminal law. Both Goodell and Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voted against the Domestic Violence Survivors Act, and we can’t blame them.

Better suggestions could have been found in legislative suggestions made last year by the Assembly Republican Task Force on Preventing Domestic Violence. Of course, the same Assembly majority that trumpets its piece of do-nothing legislation in 2019 failed to pass legislation over the past two years that might have done something to help survivors of domestic abuse. Here is some legislation proposed last year that didn’t go anywhere:

¯ A.8810, which would have created an automatic Class E felony on the first offense of committing an act of domestic violence in the presence of children. Sponsored by Giglio and co-sponsored by Goodell, the legislation never made it out of committee.

¯ Brittany’s Law, A.404, which would require the registration of violent felony offenders, with corresponding registration requirements and procedural guidelines to allow local law enforcement agencies and the state to monitor the whereabouts of violent felony offenders. The legislation passed the state Senate but never made it out of the Assembly’s Corrections Committee in 2017 or 2018. Giglio and Goodell served as co-sponsors of the legislation.

¯ A. 2027 would have required domestic violence defendants to be released with the option of wearing a GPS device in efforts to protect the welfare of domestic violence victims. It didn’t advance past the Governmental Operations Committee in 2017 or 2018.

¯ A. 1385 would have extended the time period for orders of protection in domestic violence cases to five years for Family Court and 10 years for criminal court. It failed to be passed by the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee in 2017 or 2018.

If the state Assembly is serious about domestic violence, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says the “Assembly majority is committed to ensuring that survivors have the tools and resources to put their lives back together,” then it should scrap the Domestic Violence Survivors Act and pass legislation that might actually help domestic violence survivors remain safe. Cuomo should veto this legislation and send the Assembly and Senate back to the drawing board.