On May 13, 2014, the New York State Court of Appeals (the highest court in New York State), declared New York’s criminal harassment statute, Penal Law section 240.30(1)(a) unconstitutionally vague and over broad. Under the statute it is a misdemeanor to “harass, annoy, threaten or alarm” another person either in writing or verbally if it was “likely to cause annoyance or harm.”
In writing for the state’s highest court, Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam wrote a decision which stated this statute did not properly define what causing “annoyance or alarm” means and it did not specifically state what behaviors the law was referring to.
Domestic Violence Cases
This statute was primarily used in the prosecution of individuals in domestic violence cases. District Attorneys throughout the State of New York are now working to revise the aggravated harassment statute in light of this recent decision of the New York State Court of Appeals.
Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County District Attorney, who is currently the President of the State District Attorney’s Association said stopping harassment is one of the top priorities of the district attorneys looking into this statute. She stated “we ‘will work with the legislators to craft a new law that will help protect victims by filling the statutory gap left by the court’s decision.'”
No Statute to Protect Victims
Domestic violence advocates are concerned that without the aggravated harassment statute, victims of domestic violence will be at risk. Amy Schwartz, the senior staff attorney with the Empire Justice Center in Rochester, stated “one of the more commonly enumerated family offenses” with regard to those individuals seeking orders of protection from the family court deal with the aggravated harassment statute.
New York State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, the current chair of the Assembly’s Codes Committee, is working with his counterparts in the New York State Senate to help rewrite this statute. He stated “we are currently working with and awaiting input from domestic violence prosecutors across the state and how to legislatively address the issues that have arisen with regard to this case.”
Domestic Violence, Active and Inactive
There are two types of domestic violence, one physical and the other mental. Can emails and discussions between individuals that don’t contain threats, amount to aggravated harassment and be the basis for domestic violence allegations? Let’s see what the New York State Legislature does.