New York was the first state to draft a “Son of Sam” law. The legislature enacted the law after rampant speculation about publishers offering large amounts of money for serial killer David Berkowitz’s story. The law was invoked in New York eleven separate times between 1977 and 1990. The original law was struck down on First Amendment grounds when the Supreme Court determined that it removed financial incentives for many criminals to tell their stories, some of which were of vital public interest. New York rewrote the law, and is now one of many states with laws aimed to prevent felons from capitalizing on their crimes; the new law was written to adhere to the Supreme Court’s decision striking New York’s first version of the law.
New York’s current law was enacted in 2001, and it requires that crime victims be notified whenever a person convicted of a crime receives $10,000 of more (from virtually any source). The law then attaches a springing statute of limitations to give victims an extended period of time to sue the perpetrator of the crime in civil court for their crimes. This law also authorizes a state agency, the Crime Victims’ Board, to act on the victims’ behalf in some limited circumstance. The law has thus far survived constitutional scrutiny. A WMC victim could use the Son of Sam law to challenge a defendant criminal’s efforts to profit from his or her crimes by seeking payment from publishing his story.
b. Text of Statute
The statute is quite long and detailed, but the relevant operable section for a WMC litigant follows:
1) Notwithstanding any inconsistent provision of the estates, powers, and trusts law or the civil practice law and rules with respect to the timely bringing of an action, any crime victim shall have the right to bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction to recover money damages from a person convicted of a crime of which the crime victim is a victim, or the representative of that convicted person, within three years of the discovery of any profits from a crime or funds of a convicted person, as those terms are defined in this section. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a judgment obtained pursuant to this section shall not be subject to execution or enforcement against the first one thousand dollars deposited in an inmate account to the credit of the inmate pursuant to section one hundred sixteen of the correction law or in a prisoner account to the credit of the prisoner pursuant to section five hundred-c of the correction law. In addition, where the civil action involves funds of a convicted person and such funds were recovered by the convicted person pursuant to a judgment obtained in a civil action, a judgment obtained pursuant to this section may not be subject to the execution or enforcement against a portion thereof in accordance with subdivision (k) of section fifty-two hundred five of the civil practice law and rules. If an action is filed pursuant to this subdivision after the expiration of all other applicable statutes of limitation, any other crime victims must file any actual discovery of such profits or funds, or within three years of actual notice received from or notice published by the crime victims’ board of such discovery, whichever is later.
Research is ongoing. My search of New York cases citing this law did not reveal any cases that are factually relevant or analogous to WMC’s target situations.
d. Practice Pointers
There are no relevant practice pointers to add here at this time.