New law expanding eligibility for crime victims’ compensation now effective
Victims of the misdemeanor strangulation offense added last year to the state’s Penal Law are now eligible to seek compensation and assistance from the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS), regardless of whether they suffered physical injuries when they were attacked.
Under the state’s Executive Law, individuals must meet one of three criteria to be eligible to receive an award for compensation from OVS: they must suffer a physical injury; be a minor, disabled or elderly; or be the victim of certain crimes detailed in statute.
Three strangulation offenses were added to the Penal Law on Nov. 11, 2010: criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, a Class A misdemeanor; second-degree strangulation, a Class D felony; and first-degree strangulation, a Class C felony. Unlike the two strangulation felonies, the definition of the misdemeanor charge did not include any reference to physical injury, rendering those victims ineligible to receive an award for compensation from OVS based on the charge alone.
An amendment to the state’s Executive Law, which was signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in September and took effect last week (Dec. 22), provides for the misdemeanor strangulation charge to be included in the list of crimes for which a victim may receive compensation for certain expenses incurred as a result of those crimes.
“This update to the law will greatly benefit survivors of domestic violence, since strangulation is one of the most common forms of violence that abusers perpetrate on their victims,” OVS Director Tina M. Stanford said. “This change ensures that all victims of these terrible acts, no matter the severity of the charges, can seek assistance from OVS.”
A total of 10,057 individuals statewide have been charged under the Strangulation statute since the law took effect through Nov. 22, 2011. Of those, 8,160 faced the misdemeanor charge.
The Office of Victim Services offers compensation related to personal injury, death and loss of essential personal property to eligible crime victims, at no cost to taxpayers. The agency can assist with a variety of expenses, including unreimbursed medical and dental bills, funeral and moving costs, and provides compensation for lost wages and support.
Funding for crime victims’ compensation – as well as OVS operations and grants the agency provides to a network of 189 victims’ assistance programs across the state – comes entirely from fines, mandatory surcharges and crime victim assistance fees that certain offenders pay after conviction in either New York State or federal court. For example, an individual convicted of a felony in New York State must pay a $300 mandatory surcharge and a $25 crime victim assistance fee.
There is a cap on some payments made by the agency: the maximum amount for a loss of wages or support claim is $30,000; funeral expenses, $6,000; and essential personal property, $500. There is no cap on medical/therapy payments. For example, if an individual suffers a traumatic brain injury as a result of a shooting, and he or she is deemed eligible for assistance, the agency will pay medical bills indefinitely.
OVS is a payer of last resort, which means all other sources of compensation must be exhausted before the agency can pay a victim or their family for “out-of-pocket” losses related to the crime. In 2010, the agency provided nearly $27 million in compensation to more than 11,000 crime victims and their families.
Visit ovs.ny.gov online and click on “Help for Crime Victims” to learn more about eligibility guidelines, frequently asked questions and the 189 victims’ assistance programs (VAPs) that the agency funds across New York State. Those VAPs serve more than 240,000 individuals statewide annually.