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Legislators want to come down hard on serial domestic abusers

June 13, 2011
The story of an abusive man chasing his girlfriend down the street with a machete clutched in his hand is among the tales of violence lawmakers are pointing to in their attempt to beef up domestic abuse laws before the end of this session.

With the end of the legislative session approaching, Sen. Daniel Squadron, D-Carroll Gardens, and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, are stepping up efforts to pass legislation they introduced in January (S.1510/A.1986) that would toughen domestic violence laws by creating a new felony charge of "aggravated domestic violence" for repeat offenders who might only face a low-level misdemeanor charge under the existing statutes.

"Too many women in New York state are repeat victims of domestic violence abusers," said Rosenthal. "The laws we have now on the books are inadequate and allow abusers to go free despite repeated instances of abuse and subsequent convictions. This bill will make sure that if you are an abuser with a history of abuse, you will be charged with a felony and go to prison."

If adopted, the new Class E felony charge could be applied to anyone who has been convicted of one or more specific domestic violence crimes within a five-year period.

Rosenthal said the proposed legislation would prevent "an untold number of needless deaths" and "send a strong message to victims that they are valued members of the community." The bill has dozens of cosponsors and multisponsors in both parties in the Assembly.

According to the legislation's justification, there were 622 individuals convicted of two or more domestic violence offenses in Manhattan from 2004 to 2009. Over a third of the 622 defendants had at least one case with a felony-level assault charge, it says.

The bill justification highlights several cases from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, one in which a defendant with "a long misdemeanor domestic violence history, involving multiple assaults and violations of orders of protection" chased his girlfriend down a street with a machete. The man bit and clawed at the woman in front of her 3-year-old child.

Another defendant featured in the bill's justification returned to his spouse's apartment and hit her in the face "shortly after" pleading guilty to assaulting her in front of their children. The man was freed on $500 cash bail upon his arrest.

Squadron points to the death of New York City Police Department Officer Alain Schaberger who was killed earlier this year while responding to a domestic violence call. Schaberger was thrown over a staircase railing by a serial domestic abuser who had a 12-year history of offenses.

"Today, abusers rack up domestic violence offenses without any promise of protection for their victims," the senator said. "By elevating repeat offenses to a felony, this bill would protect victims and prevent incidents like the one that took Officer Schaberger's life. But the clock is running out on this legislative session. In the name of Officer Schaberger and the many others affected by domestic violence, Albany must act now to make New York a safer place."

Squadron has bipartisan support for the bill from three senators in the upper house. Sens. Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn; Charles Fuschillo, R-Merrick; and Timothy Kennedy, D-South Buffalo, have all cosponsored the legislation, which is expected to have no fiscal implications and would be effective 180 days after becoming law.

"Domestic violence has no place in our society, but we all know that it exists," said Golden. "That is why I am a sponsor of this bill, which targets repeat domestic violence offenders in an attempt to bring an end to this wrong within our society."

The bill is also receiving support from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and New York State District Attorneys Association President Derek Champagne.

"Too often, victims of domestic violence suffer at the hands of their abusers over and over again, and we have seen how quickly these cases can turn deadly. Domestic violence is a criminal justice and public health crisis that must be aggressively addressed now," said Vance. "For that reason, we are proposing this common-sense law to deal with domestic violence offenders so that victims know that there are ways to end the cycle of abuse and control."

The bill was referred to the Codes committees in each house in January. Proponents of the bill are hopeful the Legislature will take it up in the final days of session.

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