By Kelsey Durham
Queens lawmakers gathered this week to celebrate the passage of a bill aimed at cracking down against repeat sexual offenders by harshening penalties.
State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) joined Queens District Attorney Richard Brown Tuesday to announce the passage, by both state bodies, of legislation that would eliminate what Simotas called a “loophole” in the state penal code that prevented offenders from being prosecuted to the full extent of the law after committing multiple sexual abuse crimes.
Under current law, an offender can be charged with a felony after being convicted of committing three misdemeanor sexual offenses within a 10-year span, but the law allows for time spent in prison to be counted in that 10 years.
The bill, sponsored by Simotas and Gianaris, would amend that law to exclude any time spent incarcerated, when an offender would not have the opportunity to commit a crime, from the 10-year window.
“The law right now doesn’t account for that time spent in jail, so there were multiple circumstances where someone had multiple sexual abuse misdemeanor offenses, but prosecutors weren’t able to charge them and bump it up as persistent sexual abuse,” Simotas said. “This closes that loophole.”
With the upgrade from misdemeanor to felony, Simotas said penalties for repeat sexual abuse offenses can go from one to two years up to a sentence of five to 10 years.
Simotas said the issue was brought to her attention about two years ago and she has been working with Gianaris and other elected officials since to find a solution. Now that it has passed both houses, she said the next step is to await approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though it had not yet gone in front of him.
Gianaris issued a statement after Tuesday’s news conference urging Cuomo to sign the bill into law to help protect future victims.
“There should be no place in our society for criminals who repeatedly sexually abuse others in our community,” he said. “This bill would crack down harder on those miscreants who commit multiple sex crimes in a 10-year period, and in doing so, make every New Yorker safer.”
Simotas said the bill had little to no opposition in both the Senate and the Assembly, but she thanked Gianaris and other lawmakers for the support that helped push the bill through both bodies. Brown also applauded the elected officials for their work and said the passage of the bill would help prosecutors like him hold sex offenders fully accountable for their actions.
Simotas said she hoped the bill would deter sexual offenders from committing crimes knowing they would be more harshly punished.
“We have to give our criminal justice system all the tools it needs to send people to prison for their crimes,” she said. “This gives me peace of mind, but there is still a lot of work to do.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at email@example.com.