After a highly publicized and emotional court proceeding that led to a 75-year sentence for ex-cop’s role in the sexual assault by gunpoint of a Inwood teacher, there have been calls to broaden New York State’s rape laws. This includes both the Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Queens Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas.
Although the offender had been punished accordingly, many were upset by the fact that the conviction did not include rape. This was mainly due to the jury being unable to confirm whether or not Pena vaginally penetrated the victim, leading to a mistrial on the rape counts.
Currently in New York, the state rape laws require prosecutors to prove vaginal penetration in order for an attack to be deemed a rape. This call to action by Comm. Kelly was also after Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas introduced her “Rape is Rape” bill in April. The main goal of this bill is to expand the definition of rape to include forcible oral and anal sexual contact, which is currently considered sexual assault.
The main rationale for this proposal, from a prosecutor’s perspective, is that the word rape has a connotation that adds severity to the act that other crimes, such as sexual assault, does not. Although the top penalties for rape and sexual assault are almost identical, those interested in expanding the definition are interested also in the intangible effects of such a move, with the hopes of deterring individuals from committing the act in the first place.
Lumping additional types of sexual assault into the rape category not only has the potential to politicize a case, but it also may be antithetical to its purpose by impacting the decisions of jurors who may feel that rape charges require higher standards of conviction. This presents both the possibility of the accused being over-prosecuted for their alleged offense and others who may be deserving of a rape allegation having their case thrown out because the jury is unable to prove the necessary standards for a full rape conviction.
This proposal for an overhaul of NY rape laws has been seen by others as a waste of resources and manpower needed to go in and make changes that can be viewed as primarily psychological as opposed to substantive. With similar sentencing already in place, it is irresponsible to lump charges together and combine laws, because this will inevitably lead to miscommunication and generalizations that will hurt an individual’s right to a fair trial. This is also an added burden to the Queens rape defense attorney representing the suspect because they will now have to work on cases that will be harder to defend, due in part to the newly broadened wording.
Although everyone would like a simple legal code in New York, with such distinct and divisive charges like rape, it is important to specify the differences and accurately prosecute an individual based on specific charges. One of the main reasons why the laws were written the way they were is to refrain from what Comm. Kelly and Assemblywoman Simotas are proposing, which is to avoid broad definitions and unfair practices for the accused, who are innocent until proven guilty. Having specific laws makes it easier for the jury to come to an accurate and just consensus while fairly holding the responsible parties accountable for their actions.