Sen.’s Proposal Closes Legal Loophole
Violent criminals who murder police officers and other law enforcement officials will spend the rest of their lives in prison with no possibility of parole under legislation recently introduced by State Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo.
“While those who take the lives of police officers are supposed to be sentenced to life without parole in New York’s prison system, a loophole in the law makes it possible that these cold-blooded killers could wind up back on the streets in as little as 20 years,” said Addabbo. “While the chances of this happening are relatively small, I think we owe it to the families and friends of murdered law enforcement officials to make sure that their killers stay where they belong: behind bars for their entire lives.”
Discussing the need for the legislation (S.4409), Addabbo pointed to the fact that the four men who gunned down 22-year-old New York City P.O. Edward Byrne in 1988 while he was guarding a Queens witness in a drug case came up for parole last November.
“Officer Byrne’s family should never have been subjected to that,” said Addabbo. “Those heartless killers brutally shot this brave young officer five times in the head at close range while he was only trying to do his sworn duty. They don’t deserve a chance to regain their freedom and Officer Byrne’s loved ones shouldn’t have been forced to relive such a horrible, life-altering crime.”
Addabbo explained that the loophole in the law was created after the New York State Court of Appeals struck down the state’s existing capital punishment (death penalty) statute in 2004, finding it unconstitutional and thus unenforceable. Specifically, the old law contained language regarding instructions that could be given to a jury if it became deadlocked and could not agree on either life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
The court found a potential for coercion in the language since the jury would be informed that, in the case of deadlock, the trial judge would be empowered to sentence the defendant to as little as 20 years to life or as much as life in prison without parole. This might lead some jurors to recommend the death penalty, even if they didn’t believe it was right, simply to avoid having the killer eventually released on parole.
“Although the New York State Legislature never acted to re-impose the death penalty, the state did adopt a new law in 2005, known as the Crimes Against Police Officers Act, to recognize the heinous nature of offenses committed against law enforcement officers,” Addabbo explained.
Part of this law created the new crime of aggravated murder- deemed to occur when a person intentionally kills a police officer, peace officer or an employee of the Department of Correctional Services. The only sentence which can be imposed under this 2005 law for the crime of aggravated murder is life imprisonment without parole.
However, the earlier crime of murder in the first degree, the charge brought against those who intentionally killed law enforcement officers prior to the enactment of the 2005 Crimes Against Police Officers Act, remained on the books following the Court of Appeals ruling on the death penalty statute. As such, state law technically continues to provide for prosecutorial discretion in allowing those who murder law enforcement officers to be eligible for parole – in direct contradiction to the intent of the 2005 legislation.
“My bill would address this problem with the law and make it clear that, under any circumstances, those who murder police officers go to prison and stay in prison,” said Addabbo. “I hope that my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly will join with me in ensuring that justice is done when guardians of the public trust and safety-our law enforcement officials-tragically lose their lives at the hands of vicious, violent, unrepentant killers.”