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It is Time to Pass Violent Offender Registry Law

A Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
Domestic violence is a widespread problem across the nation and in New York.

According to the State Office of Court Administration, in 2016 more than 28,000 domestic assaults were reported to police agencies outside of New York City.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a reminder that this type of abuse is prevalent and that educating the public on this important topic can help save lives.

One way to provide critical information to families that could help prevent instances of domestic violence is by passing Brittany’s Law.

Brittany’s Law would create a public registry of violent, felony offenders that would operate similar to the state’s sex offender registry.

Those convicted of violent felonies would be required to register as a violent felon with the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services within 10 days of being released from prison and would be required to re-register annually or if their address changed.

The public would have access to the online registry and would be able to search to see if they have violent offenders living in their neighborhoods – just as the public can with the sex offender registry.

The law is named for Brittany Passalacqua, the 12-year-old daughter of Helen Buchel. Both Brittany and Helen were brutally murdered in November 2009 by John Edward Brown in Geneva, NY.

Brown had a criminal history that included a conviction for assaulting his infant daughter in 2003.

According to Helen’s mother, Dale Driscoll, Helen was unaware of Brown’s violent past when she became involved with him.

Since the tragedy, Helen’s mother and state representatives have been fighting for the enactment of Brittany’s Law.

Studies repeatedly have shown that violent felony offenders are likely to repeat violent crimes when released from prison.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 71.3% of violent offenders are arrested for a new crime within five years of release.

Looking at the recidivism rate in New York State, in 2011 the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released a study finding that 45% of violent felony offenders were likely to be re-incarcerated.

Throughout our communities in New York State, there are probably many individuals like Helen, who have unknowingly come into contact with an individual with a violent, criminal past – whether it’s their neighbor or even someone in their household.

Passing Brittany’s Law would give the public access to important information about people they meet, which can save lives and prevent tragedies.

The Senate has passed this bill eight times. Unfortunately, the Assembly Democrats have consistently blocked Brittany’s Law from reaching the floor for a vote.

Despite bipartisan support, the bill has remained in the Assembly Corrections Committee since 2010.

Throughout our communities in New York State, there are likely many individuals like Helen, who have unknowingly come into contact with an individual with a violent, criminal past – whether it’s their neighbor or even someone in their household.

Had Brittany’s Law been in place in 2009, it’s possible that Helen Buchel would have had the tools to discover Brown’s criminal background prior to inviting him into her home.

Fourteen other states have similar violent criminal registries. New York should be next.

Locally, we are fortunate to have excellent agencies in place that help victims of domestic violence and abuse. Vera House in Onondaga County manages a 24-hour crisis support hotline for people who may be in danger, need advice or access to resources. That number is (315) 468-3260.

Oswego County residents may call the county’s abuse and assault hotline at (315) 342-1600.

Jefferson County residents may call the Victim Assistance Center’s 24-hour hotline at (315) 782-1855.

For an emergency, dial 911 or call the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906.

For general information, visit http://www.opdv.state.ny.us or call 1-866-704-2503.

If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.

14 Comments

  1. The fallacy of the argument that you need a violent and sex offender registry given to the public in unlimited ways, is that violence and sex offenses are crimes of opportunity and not a crimes of psychology.

    In fact, the sex offender registry is so dangerous to public safety, and my safety, that I left the registry. Taking away my home, making it almost impossible to keep a job and unable to cultivate healthy relationships is DANGEROUS to community safety.

    I have a job, stable living arrangements, and healthy social interactions. Therefore I am SAFE…

    Shifting danger is not making the community safer. Leaving people without any ability to integrate into the community is dangerous to public safety. But I understand, it is the scarlet letter that is so compelling, and you believe is so richly deserved.

    But don’t think for a minute it is a tool to protect the community. It is just a punishment..the worst type society can mete…social banishment…

  2. A criminal record is something everyone should consider before committing any crime, whether it’s one of opportunity or not. There’s plenty of jobs where both public safety and children should be protected by background checks to weed out violent offenders and sex offenders. However, I can understand what you are saying, and there is some merit to your viewpoint. Unfortunately, the statistics speak for themselves, so it’s not like there isn’t any public safety concern and it’s somehow all about “punishment”.

    Whether or not the general public should have access to this information is somewhat questionable, but considering that almost anyone can do a background check on most anyone in today’s world of online services, they could probably find out anyhow if they were suspicious of you. However, laws could vary from state to state as well, and some records may be sealed.

  3. Background checks and active public dissemination in unlimited ways are totally different animals. One is used to consider for a special position of many sorts and types, with dissemination limited in scope. The other is used to exclude widely from every aspect of society under presumptions of continued danger and special laws to address this supposed continued danger. No challenges are allowed, and the rules are changed arbitrarily on a yearly basis.

    Examples: Facebook doesn’t allow convicted sex offenders on their site, and uses the registry in order to deny service. (packaged by the State on a weekly basis). All level 2’s and 3’s are denied access to State parks. Any close by business can and does deny services. Emails are sent out to the community immediately after moving in. Landlords find it harder to rent, employers find it impossible to employ and neighbors in fear of even casual contact.

    This is a violation of DUE PROCESS, because a basis of continued danger is used in order to justify the continual notifications, while no court has ever ruled actual danger (on any label level) has to be shown through any standard of proof. In other words, a person in a coma is labeled just as dangerous based upon a never changing danger level, with community notification just as prevalent.

    Now you all want to expand the registry…? WHY? Because it protects the community? NO. It has been decades and research is unanimous that the sex offender registry doesn’t affect offense levels. But it is extremely popular because it is a PUNISHMENT of social banishment, applied extra-judicially, and through the never-ending political process. People are banned from parks, not because there has been rapes in parks, but because people on a registry actually went to parks.

    Until I get some DUE PROCESS..I REFUSE the registry on ex-post facto basis, double jeopardy and cruel and unusual punishments that is applied completely absent due process and extra-judicially.

    A level hearing is NOT due process… A level is an ever changing definition by a legislature who is looking to be more punitive to registrants on a yearly basis.

  4. Okay, I see what you’re talking about, and actually agree with some of your logic. Under Due Process, a person who has been convicted and served their time (or sentence) is usually considered free to meld back into society and have all the same rights as anyone else. However, if part of their original sentencing includes stipulations, such as probation, monitoring, being unable to posess a firearm or drivers license, etc, then essentially that IS part of the sentence.

    The basis of “Continued Danger” can apply in many instances, from DWI to parole. While I agree (and you should too) that some people pose more of a danger to society than others, that is where the various level’s come into play,… much like the offense itself when being charged, (felony, misdemeanor, violation, etc.). The same usually applies to prison itself,… which one someone will be sent to, and what cell block they will be in based on various factors.

    As for State parks, I think the potential danger in one is higher and very real, and keeping people safe from unsuspecting predators is a necessity. If they can pass laws banning smoking in them, they should be able to pass laws keeping sex offenders out, using the same logic that they are both public safety issues.

    Concerning the “coma” issue, I agree with you. Perhaps level status should change over time due to good behavior, if it doesn’t already. As far as the registry is concerned, how would Facebook be able to keep them off their site without it, or do you think they shouldn’t have that right to deny them access?

  5. AS A VICTIM OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE BY MY EX-BOYFRIEND BACK ON AUGUST 02, 2010 LEFT ME WITH A MILD LIFE LONG CONCUSSION WITH SEIZURES DUE TO THE HEAD INJURY I RECEIVED IT TOOK 9 MONTHS TO GET JUSTICE BUT IT IS TIME THE BRITTANY’S LAW IS PASSED THANKS FOR YOUR TIME AND EFFORTS JUSTICE NEEDS TO BE SERVED FOR ALL THE VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HAVING A REGISTRY FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE CONVICTED OF A D.V. CRIME WOULD HELP OUT NOT ONLY THE VICTIM BUT THE LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES AND THE MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES AND THE HOSPITALS TOO

  6. Mr. Wizard.

    Levels are not a system to determine future dangerousness. It is a political designation that changes all the time. Just because a legislature says, level 2 means medium risk, does not make it so. No court has ruled that levels mean dangerousness. It is just a form of categorization that the State has almost unlimited ability to do.

    With respect to State parks..it is just an existence law. There has never been a problem with offenders re-offending in State parks. A few offenders were recognized in state parks, people complained, and imagination took over and laws were passed.

    Facebook has no ability to keep people off their site, not legally. Facebook has become quasi-governmental in their portal by having the whole of the population use their platform for free speech.

    In fact, this issue is so important, that social media using the State to collect information for the purpose of giving to social media for the sole purpose of purging renders the whole of the registry illegal and therefore I will NEVER follow it.

    The 1st amendment is the most important amendment. It allows even the most unpopular to speak out in the name of justice, fairness and equal application of law.

    All crime is outrageous. Expansion of the registry will only lead to more crime, huge swaths of hopeless people, and a real degradation on what freedom and justice means.

    I INVOKE the prohibition on ex-post facto laws. I REFUSE to go back under a level system that would deem me dangerous and then take away my safety and security for community protection.

    That is what is so ridiculous about your levels. They deem a person dangerous, and then do everything they can to provoke him into offending….by total exclusion, harassment, fear, which leads to alienation and finally MORE victims.

    You all can keep that system….

  7. re: Rudy101…….It’s perhaps true, that levels may not determine “future dangerousness”, but maybe rather they more likely determine or reflect “current dangerousness” or “past dangerousness”. Certain criteria must be met in order to determine level status of any offense, such as 3rd degree, 1st degree, and so forth. I believe these give courts the general framework for imposing sentencing, due to severity of a crime. The legislature makes the laws, and the courts are supposed to carry them out, and not legislate from the bench. If you think the law is unconstitutional, that’s what The Supreme Court is for.

    You claim that no court has ruled that “levels mean dangerousness”. Has any court ruled that they don’t? Furthermore, if that’s the case, (that levels have no meaning), then what would determine (or be) the difference between simple assault and aggravated assault just as an example? Wouldn’t that make either crime punishable as the same offense without a level system of some sort in place?

    Levels are used for everything from school report cards to government job classifications. Income levels, poverty levels, security clearance levels, and parking garage levels. Why wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) they have a level system in place for things pertaining to the criminal justice system as well?

  8. The Adam Walsh Act, a federal law, passed in 2006, mandated that approximately 2/3 of all sex offenses will become level 3 and lifetime registrants and meet with the police 4 times a year. About 15 States are Adam Walsh Act compliant. The Adam Walsh Act also mandated retro-activity to 1956. We are told by the State that levels are determinations of FUTURE DANGEROUSNESS. However the courts found the Adam Walsh to be Constitutional..WHY? When obviously even those that no reasonable person would find dangerous, are moved to the most serious level. You are conditioned to believe level 3’s are dangerous, and then the legislature changes the rules, and makes 2/3 of everyone the most dangerous.

    They did it because I have no “interest” in a level system. It supposedly does not infringe upon Constitutional rights. It is just catagorization.

    The courts ruled that categorizing In order to lock someone up in a civil system, they can’t use levels, that would be UnConstitutional. They have to have a TRIAL and a finding with CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE that a person poses a danger to society AND they do this by a finding that a person has a “personality disorder” (not defined) that doesn’t allow themselves to control their sexual devient impulses. With that finding, is indefinate lock up until that person is found that he can control his impulses (even with the personality disorder). It is a two pronged test.

    Standards of proof, since the founding of the Republic, has been the basis of taking of liberty. In civil cases, they can take everything you own by a “preponderance of the evidence” (more likely than not). Clear and convincing evidence and they can lock you up on a civil system. Probable cause, and they can detain you for a limited amount of time before trial, and then of course, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, which is used to take freedom and give you a conviction and put you in prison.

    These definitions can’t be rewritten by a legislature. They are not written into the Constitution, but are considered COMMON LAW, and settled practices of the court system. They are so important, they literally are the defining system that protects against arbitrary governmental action (Freedom and justice).

    The State could never find me a danger according to any standard of proof, but can easily change standards for level systems and than pass that system around the community as a dangerous system. Force me to comply with all sorts of rules and then lock me up for long periods of time by making non criminal conduct, criminal.

    The way the State gets around it is, supposedly the level system doesn’t infringe upon any Constitutional RIGHTS.

    BUT is that true? If I cannot find security in the community all my other rights are rendered meaningless. Isn’t that so. Sure, I have freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion…but I can’t practice any of it, because the State has deemed me dangerous under an ever changing system of dangerousness. I am isolated, alone and on the fringes of society. In essence I am in internal exile. No reasonable person would consider me, “free”.

    You all are going to seriously allow a legislature this kind of power? To wield at any time, upon anyone with any type of conviction? You read the comment above from the victim. She wants her pound of flesh. Who could deny her that?

    Except, at the essence of freedom and justice is that “every person is an individual before the law. I didn’t kill the kids, or have anything to do with the person who killed the kids, whose laws are named after that is making my life unmanageable.

    The theory behind the requirement of a warrant to search is, EVERYONE is a criminal if the State can dig deep enough. Therefore, they need PROBABLE CAUSE a crime is committed and the warrant must be specific to what is searched for. The State can’t go house to house looking for marijuana, can they? They can’t force you to incriminate yourself.

    When outrage is your test…ALL of you are at risk…

    I have MY RIGHTS!

    These are MY DEMANDS:

    I have a Constitutional RIGHT under the DUE PROCESS clause of the Constitution to NOT be dangerous. This will confer an INTEREST in my label of dangerousness and should force the State to make proof under accepted standards. IF I am found NOT dangerous, the State cannot “regulate” me in any jurisdiction or state. If I am found dangerous, the State must put RATIONAL regulations upon me that actually promotes public safety. I realize public notification wouldn’t be a part of most cases….but it isn’t about public notification, but about PROTECTION OF THE COMMUNITY.

    Finally: I do not have to serve an illegal punishment to challenge the illegal punishment.

    All that means if, you all can ignore my demands, if you want, but that does not get me back on a registry.

    I want an injunction that allows me to challenge the registry while not following the registry requirements. It’s supposed to be a civil law…surely the State can’t argue there would be manifest harm in my being in society without public notification…Because certainly there is manifest harm in that registry and how it is applied now…and that is easily argued…

    But do what you all want….

  9. re: Rudy101…..Let me start off by saying that you make a pretty compelling argument, and appear to be intelligent, educated, and well versed concerning your situation.

    If what you are saying is in fact actually true, I could agree on many, if not all, of the points you made.While I don’t actually take issue with levels defining the serverity of various things (including risk status), simply applying them across the board to 2/3 of a group retroactively since 1956 as opposed to a case by case basis does seem rather odd. However, it makes me wonder why the other 1/3 were not classified to the same degree. I’m sure overwhelming the court system for eternity with every sex offender case since 1956 may have had something to do with it, but that’s just speculation on my part. Without knowing what criteria was used to make the classification level, I have to draw my own conclusions. However, I would agree, that some people are more dangerous than others, and that SHOULD be considered on a case by case basis, or so it would seem.

    As for “rational” regulations regarding public safety, I don’t think that’s really your call to make. If you were to be “found dangerous” going thru the entire legal process that you demand (and IMO should to be entitled to), then incarceration would be a rational regulation that actually promotes public safety.

    There’s lots of questions to be had concerning all the issues you brought up, since your reply was very long. However, as to the main points, my understanding of the legal system has always been much the way you see and understand it, (burden of proof, preponderance of the evidence, resonable doubt etc.), and all that legal speak. Without knowing all the specifics of your case from start to finish, it’s almost an impossibility to know if you are actually dangerous or not. I do think you should have every right to contest and challenge the law, however, abiding by it in the meantime would seem to be in your best interest. Your defiance to not serve an illegal punishment sounds a bit like refusal to take a breath test at a DWI checkpoint, and then driving after they suspend your license for a year.

  10. Very quickly and I will wrap up this forum, as far as I am concerned. The Adam Walsh Act applied level systems to convictions, not dangerousness. So, 2/3 of those that are registered will be the highest level that is how they wrote the law.

    Incarceration is a rational regulation, and was a part of my punishment. I am long since finished with that punishment. A registry is an extra punishment applied outside of a court. The State asserts it is a civil regulation and therefore it doesn’t implicate the prohibition on ex-post facto laws. My assertion is, that is laughable at best, and dangerous at worst.

    There is a body of laws, well settled, that prohibits the State from passing laws against groups of people under the guise of “protection” that only has harm as its outcome.

    I certainly have a RIGHT to flee a registry and do whatever I can to avoid it. The State can’t, with a straight face, make the assertion that the outcomes of a registry are simply benign or has any other outcome but harm to the offender. They assert community protection vigerously, but no court has actually forced them to show community protection. A theory seems to be good enough.
    Meanwhile the evidence of harm a registry mounts.

    I am SAFE from a registry law. That is why I speak so freely. But that is kinda funny, because the registry is supposed to be about community protection and I have had to seek safety from it.

    If my allegations do not have merit..I couldn’t do what I am doing. I am not hiding. I am a productive member of the community and I have sense of belonging to it Anyone even try to go after that, and all that does is plays into my hands and purposes.

    I realize you don’t have a firm grasp on the criminal justice system. You are not supposed to. Heck, I am a high school drop out who ended up in prison. Was I supposed to roll-over and proclaim my life over?

    That was not going to happen and that is not what happened. Again..It is too late to put me back on a registry. I am not a loser in this fight…you all are…So the ball is in your court. Protect freedom and justice and allow me my due process or not. But it really is in just that terms…

  11. re: Rudy101….Since you are apparently much more familiar with this particular issue than most people (including myself) I thought I would do some additional research on it rather than just providing an opinion based on what you have written. I would encourage anyone reading this who is interested to as well, regarding the “Adam Walsh Act”, and also a Supreme Court decision titled “The United States vs. Comstock”. It’s a very short read, and describes in detail how The U.S. Supreme Court arrived at it’s decision. You can form your own opinions from there, if you haven’t already.

  12. re: OCT….Thank you for printing my multipul responses. Upon additional research, I would also like to include a court case of ‘Kansas vs. Hendrix” that appears to have significant bearing on this issue.

  13. re: Rudy101…Please keep in mind that being “the first person” to respond to any online news story or opinion piece where others can also make comments will usually be met by both people who agree with you and people who don’t.

    In this instance, I found both the opinion piece written by the contributor as well as your response to be somewhat different and interesting, and more worthwhile reading than some of the petty local issues and politics that are often discussed by a select few readers. My intent wasn’t to debate with you as an opponent or supporter, but rather to hear you out and make comment when inspired to do so, as part of “a discussion”.

    I don’t have to be “an attorney or a criminal” to have some understanding of the criminal justice system. I’ve known a few high school dropouts with various criminal records back in the day myself, that gave me a good enough understanding of it to stay out of it as much as possible. And at my age, I’ve done enough reading to have an above average knowledge of various parts of it. Heck, even attorneys (like doctors) have their own specialized field of expertise, without knowing everything about every single law. That’s why people often hire the best they can who are familiar with their type of case to win in court, you know that!

    Speaking of court, there’s one more case that I would like to present, (and you may be familiar with it) being Smith vs. Doe (2003). The point I’m making is that many of your points appear to be held by many people, but many of them have already been tried at various court levels (there’s that word again…level) including The Supreme Court of the United States that have ruled AGAINST some of what you are saying, but not without some dissent from within. It appears that some of the lower courts have agreed with your view, however been overturned later on. The “ex- post facto laws” seem to be one of the biggest points of contention, but the “double jeapordy” issue seems to not apply, (criminal vs.civil…think O.J. Simpson). And, we haven’t even talked about “victims rights” yet. That’s something else to consider as well,… but perhaps for another day.

  14. False statistics,moral panic and virtue signaling are allowing for the American criminal justice system to be replaced by a civil regulatory scheme free from the confines of the constitution. Of course people will stay focused on the propoganda aimed at whatever demon heading is on the registry and not notice the carpet being ripped out from under them. Perhaps some incautious readers who mistake this as advocating for criminals could take a moment to familiarize themselves with “first they came for the Jews”. If you don’t think it can happen here you better think again.

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