Police across New York have one less tool to combat domestic violence after the state’s top court tossed out part of the statute dealing with aggravated harassment, often used to arrest those who annoy and threaten for retribution.
“It is going to have an effect on our ability to deal with these cases,” said Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl.
The Court of Appeals ruled last month that sections of the aggravated harassment section are unconstitutional under both the state and federal Constitutions. It overturned convictions on those charges for Raphael Golb, the son of a University of Chicago scholar.
The younger Golb, 54, of Manhattan was accused of cooking up fake online identities to discredit opponents of his father’s research into the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The high court upheld his convictions on charges of forgery and nine counts of criminal impersonation.
But the dismantling of the aggravated harassment statute leaves a hole in the safety net for domestic violence victims, according to local law enforcement officials.
Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup Jr. said he has advised police agencies in his county to refrain from making any arrests based on the statute.
“I think the kind of conduct it was intended to proscribe should be unlawful,” said Northrup.
Both he and Muehl said they were optimistic the state Legislature will respond to the ruling by crafting a new law whose language will pass judicial muster.
Aggravated harassment charges had often helped victims obtain orders of protections against those making a concerted effort to annoy or threaten them, said Will Rivera, program director at the Violence Protection Program at Opportunities for Otsego.
“This is going to have an impact on the safety of victims within our community,” Rivera said. “We are still going to extend services to everyone regardless of whether someone can be arrested or not. We want to make sure people are safe.”