New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, has issued a series of decisions recently that indicate a real understanding of the way the law works on the ground, for the people most directly impacted by it. Most important to our practice is the Court’s ruling this week on the charge of Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree, a statute which the Court has found to be unconstitutionally vague and overly broad. This is a welcome and long overdue opinion, striking down a law that has been abused most frequently in domestic violence prosecutions, routinely criminalizing angry communications between lovers statewide. As any criminal defense lawyer in New York City knows, the aggravated harassment statute is used to prosecute individuals accused of nothing more than an angry phone call or email or two. The cases routinely get dismissed after a while, but not before orders of protection are issued, often against the express wishes of the “complainant”, with a strong negative impact on families, children, livelihoods, and sanity.
In fact, it is not infrequent that I (and other criminal lawyers in the city) have been retained by the “complainants” themselves, who are completely bewildered as to how the system can take away their control, disempower them, and separate them from their loved one, and turn them into single moms, all because they made the mistake of telling someone that their husband or boyfriend send them a couple angry texts.
The potential for abuse of this statute is precisely what made it unconstitutional. Kudos to Ron Kuby for the win, and a nod to the Court of Appeals for this welcome ruling.
Here’s the Court’s opinion: