Domestic Abuse Survivors to Receive More Consideration At Sentencing

May 17, 2019

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

On May 14, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA). The law would, among other measures, give judges more discretion when sentencing survivors convicted of offenses related to their abuse.


Protecting Survivors of Domestic Violence

Current law provides for sentencing for survivors who committed a crime in relation to their abuser under certain circumstances. The new law adds to this offenses committed due to coercion by an abuser. And it covers offenses committed against or at the behest of an abuser who does not share a household or family with the survivor.

The DVSJA will also allow judges to reduce prison sentences and redirect sentencing from incarceration to community-based programs. And now, a small population of currently incarcerated survivors can apply for re-sentencing and earlier release due to their prior victimization.


Survivors in Prison

Studies have found that between 80 and 90% of incarcerated women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Many women have gone to prison for defending themselves against their abuser. Others were coerced into illegal activity by their spouse or significant other. A report by the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision confirms these statistics. Of the women sent to prison in 2005 for killing someone close to them (other than their children), 67% were abused by the victim of their crime.

The new law aims to place the burden on the batterer rather than the victim. And it serves to not re-victimize the survivor for acts he/she committed because of the abuse. One DVSJA campaign leader, Kim Dadou Brown, is a member of the Coalition for Women Prisoners. Her story hammers home the importance of the new law.

I survived years of abuse and when I protected myself, I was sent to prison for 8 1/3 to 25 years. I was denied parole five times and spent 17 years in prison. The court system is supposed to protect you and instead it was turned against me.  I am proud to have stood with my sister survivors for over a decade leading the DV Survivors Justice Act campaign and sharing our experiences and expertise so that this critical bill could become law.


Other New Laws Protecting Survivors

Also on May 14, the state Senate passed a bill which establishes the right of tenants to call police or emergency assistance without fear of losing their housing. Nuisance ordinances are laws which make landlords more responsible for illegal activity that happens on their property. Many of New York’s most populated cities have nuisance ordinances. If passed, the proposed law would prevent landlords from evicting tenants who call the police for help with domestic violence.