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Court decides Risk Assessment in Light of SORA

James Taylor was 21 when he broke into a New Rochelle home on May 2, 1975. Assisted by three other men, Taylor entered the home of a suspected drug dealer with the intention of stealing money from the residents. Asleep in the home were the alleged drug dealer’s wife and three daughters, who were aged two, five and seven. According to a New York Criminal Lawyer, the four men, who were armed and wearing masks, demanded money from the wife and threatened to kill the children when she stated she had none. After she repeated her claim that there was no money to steal, the men threatened to kidnap the youngest daughter and hold her for ransom.

One of the men took the girls’ mother into a bathroom just off the master bedroom and closed the door. While holding a gun to her head he told her he would kill her if she didn’t reveal where they hid their money. She was then tied, bound and locked in a closet. When she escaped, the men were gone, along with her two-year-old daughter. She called police, who arrived on the scene. An officer noticed a blue Datsun in the area, which was occupied by Taylor, another man and a little girl. Police attempted to stop the vehicle, which lead to a high-speed chase. Finally, the car collided with a light pole, allowing police to rescue the child and apprehend Mr. Taylor and the other man.

At a non-jury trial, Mr. Taylor was convicted of first degree kidnapping, first degree robbery, criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree and first degree burglary. He was sentenced to 20 years to life. In November 1995, Mr. Taylor was paroled and as a condition of his release, required to register as a Level Three sex offender. At a redetermination hearing held in 2005, a Westchester County Court found that the Sex Offender Registration Act was unconstitutional in Mr. Taylor’s case and that he was not subject to its requirements. In April 2007, the court’s decision was reversed on appeal and a new hearing requested. The case was then forwarded to the Westchester County Supreme Court.

On April 22, 2008, Mr. Taylor was served with a new risk assessment document by the prosecution. In May 2008, Mr. Taylor filed a motion to dismiss the proceeding on the grounds that the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) was unconstitutional and that being forced to register as a sex offender would be a violation of his rights. The court denied the motion in August 2008 and a new classification hearing was held in February 2009. At that time, the prosecution recommended a Level Three classification and Mr. Taylor’s criminal defense attorney again objected on the grounds that he never committed any sexual abuse or other sex crimes.

In considering his argument, the courted noted that in People v. Knox, the Court of Appeals found that requiring someone to register as a sex offender for committing a crime requiring registration is not a constitutional violation even when there is no evidence to suggest that a sex crime occurred. The Westchester County Supreme Court then considered the risk assessment used to classify sex offenders, which is based on a points system. In Mr. Taylor’s case, he received 30 points based on the victim’s age and 20 points for the fact that he was previously unknown to her. The court noted that 50 points was more than sufficient to classify Mr. Taylor as a Level One sex offender.

The court then determined that 30 points should be assessed because Mr. Taylor and the other robbers were armed at the time the kidnapping occurred. Mr. Taylor’s defense attorney then questioned the mother’s testimony, arguing that it was unclear to her whether his client actually had a gun in his possession. Upon reviewing the grand jury minutes, the court found that this claim was without merit and that the additional 30 points were justified.

Next, the court was asked to consider whether 15 points should be awarded for Mr. Taylor’s prior criminal history. In November 1971, he was adjudicated as a youthful offender after pleading guilty to a non-violent felony. The court held that under state guidelines, juvenile crimes and youthful offender adjudications held equal weight in determining risk. Accordingly, another 15 points was assessed against Mr. Taylor.

The court then had to determine whether 15 points should be added for Mr. Taylor’s prior history of drug and alcohol abuse. In the early 1970s, he attended multiple drug and alcohol treatment programs, including a methadone maintenance program. In 1974, drug treatment was lifted as a condition of his probation. Mr. Taylor claimed that no points should be awarded since he was not using drugs or alcohol at the time the robbery occurred. After considering Mr. Taylor’s prior treatment record and his statements regarding his current lack of drug or alcohol use, the court found that no points were merited in this category.

According to a Westchester County Criminal Lawyer, the prosecution also requested that 10 points should be given based on evidence that Mr. Taylor did not accept full responsibility for his criminal actions. Mr. Taylor challenged this claim, stating that he never denied committing the robbery or kidnapping. He also asserted that he acknowledged his guilt before a judge in March 2005. The court found that the prosecution’s arguments were unmerited and that Mr. Taylor had made sufficient efforts to accept responsibility for his crimes.

Finally, the court had to consider whether 10 points should be added based on Mr. Taylor’s behavior while incarcerated and after his release. The prosecution provided evidence of multiple violations that occurred while he was in prison, including five Tier II violations. Mr. Taylor argued that he never had any Tier III violations and that the infractions that occurred did not involve violence or sexual acts. He also argued that since the Parole Board granted his release at his first parole hearing, this should serve as evidence of a lack of any behavioral problems. The court agreed with Mr. Taylor’s arguments and found no evidence which would merit the awarding of additional points in this category.

In total, Mr. Taylor received 95 points, which would qualify him as a Level Two offender. The prosecution sought to increase this to Level Three while Mr. Taylor sought to reduce it to Level One. Specifically, he argues that he never committed any crime that involved inappropriate sexual contact with a minor and that since his release he has made every attempt to live within the confines of the law. In sum, Mr. Taylor claims that he is no longer a threat to anyone and that a lower classification is appropriate.

After reviewing the claims of both parties, the court held that Mr. Taylor’s classification should be downgraded to a Level One offender. The court based its decision on the facts of the case and on the fact that his behavior since being paroled did not demonstrate any potential risk to society.

Mr. Taylor’s New York legal counsel continued to work diligently on his behalf long after his sentence was complete. Without his help, Mr. Taylor’s classification as a sex offender may not have been downgraded to a more appropriate level.

In cases involving sex offenses, it’s important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. The law firm of Stephen Bilkis and Associates is committed to aggressively defending the rights of clients who’ve been charged with rape, sodomy, sexual abuse and other sex offenses.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a sex crime, you need to call 1-800-NY-NY-LAW to discuss your case. Help is also available by visiting one of our New York area offices. Don’t let a conviction for a sex crime ruin your life. Get the experienced legal representation you need to protect your rights by calling Stephen Bilkis and Associates today.

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