Sunday, 15 May 2016 09:28

OP ED: Brittany’s Law Has Potential to Save Lives

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In November of 2009, Helen Buchel and her daughter, Brittany Passalacqua, a 12-year-old girl, were brutally murdered in Geneva, New York. Helen and Brittany were killed by John Edward Brown, a violent felon whose criminal history included a conviction for assaulting his infant daughter in 2003. According to Helen’s mother, Dale Driscoll, Helen was unaware of Brown’s violent past when she became involved with him. Since the tragedy, Helen’s mother and state representatives across the state have been fighting for the enactment of Brittany’s Law.

Brittany’s Law would create a public registry of violent, felony offenders that would operate similar to the state’s sex offender registry. Those convicted of violent felonies would be required to register as a violent felon with the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services within 10 days of being released from prison and would be required to re-register annually or if their address changed. The public would have access to the online registry and would be able to search to see if they have violent offenders living in their neighborhoods--just as they can with the sex offender registry.

Studies repeatedly have shown that violent felony offenders are likely to repeat violent crimes when released from prison. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 71.3% of violent offenders are arrested for a new crime within five years of release. Looking at the recidivism rate in New York State, in 2011 the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released a study finding that 45% of violent felony offenders were likely to be re-incarcerated. Throughout our communities in New York State, there are probably many individuals like Helen, who have unknowingly come into contact with an individual with a violent, criminal past – whether it’s their neighbor or even someone in their household. Passing Brittany’s Law would give the public access to important information about people they meet, which can save lives and prevent tragedies.

The Senate has passed this bill six times. Unfortunately, for reasons that are not clear, Assembly Democrats have consistently blocked Brittany’s Law from reaching the Assembly floor for a vote. Despite bipartisan support, the bill has remained in the Assembly Corrections Committee since 2010.

We should use the justice system and the technology we already have to better protect the public and prevent other tragedies by passing Brittany's Law. Had Brittany’s Law been in place in 2009, it’s possible that Helen Buchel would have had the tools to discover Brown’s criminal background prior to inviting him into her home. Thirteen other states have similar violent criminal registries. New York should be next.

Locally, we are fortunate to have excellent agencies in place that help victims of domestic violence and abuse. Vera House in Onondaga County manages a 24-hour crisis support hotline for people who may be in danger, need advice or access to resources. That number is (315) 468-3260. Oswego County residents may call the county's abuse and assault hotline at (315) 342-1600. Jefferson County residents may call the Victim Assistance Center's 24-hour hotline at (315) 782-1855. For an emergency, dial 911 or call the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906. For general information, visit or call 1-866-704-2503. If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at or by calling (315) 598-5185.

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