Abstention from Alcohol While Incarcerated and Exemplary Prison Record Did Not Warrant Downward Departure Re: Sex Offender Status/Basics of Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) Proceedings Explained In Some Depth
The First Department affirmed the sex offender status determined by Supreme Court, rejecting the arguments that an exemplary prison record and abstention from alcohol during a long incarceration warranted a downward departure. The court took the trouble to explain some of the basics of a Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) determination:
In assessing a sex offender’s danger to the community, and therefore, its recommendation to the court hearing a SORA application, the Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders (BOSE) must consider 15 statutory factors, applying them in accordance with the Risk Assessment Guidelines developed to assess an individual applicant’s risk of a repeat offense (Correction Law § 168l; Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 3 ). The evaluation is made using a Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI), identifying each factor which, if applicable, is assigned a numerical value. If a particular factor is not applicable, it is assessed at zero. The values are then tallied, resulting in a recommended risk assessment which is considered as presumptively correct at the SORA hearing before the court … .
One of the factors BOSE considers is “whether the sex offender’s conduct was found to be characterized by repetitive and compulsive behavior, associated with drugs or alcohol” … (Correction Law § 168-1[a][ii]). The guidelines clarify that if the individual has a history of drug or alcohol abuse “or was abusing drugs and or alcohol at the time of the offense,” 15 points will be assessed in that category (Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 15). Pursuant to the guidelines, BOSE or the court may choose to score zero points in this category, if the drug and/or alcohol abuse is “in the distant past, but [the defendant’s] more recent history is one of prolonged abstinence” … .
Since defendant admittedly committed his crime while intoxicated, this alone supports the 15 point assessment made against him in this category … . Thus the issue turns on whether his prolonged abstinence from alcohol use, while incarcerated, provides a basis for a 15 point reduction in this category. We find that it does not.
We have consistently held that even when alcohol use in the commission of the crime is remote in time, and the defendant has abstained from alcohol use for a prolonged period while incarcerated, such remoteness and abstinence are unreliable predictors of the risk for re-offense post-release, or to the threat posed by the sex offender to public safety … . * * *
The SORA court also providently exercised its discretion in denying defendant’s application for a discretionary downward departure to a level 2 based upon claims that he had an exemplary record while incarcerated, has shown remorse for his crime, and is now a productive member of society * * *.
We emphasize that a SORA risk-level determination is not an extended form of punishment for the sex crime committed, but a collateral consequence of the conviction intended to protect the public at large from the possibility of future crime … . A departure from a sex offender’s presumptive risk level is generally warranted only where “there exists an aggravating or mitigating factor of a kind, or to a degree, that is otherwise not adequately taken into account by the guidelines” (Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 4…)… . People v Watson, 2013 NY Slip Op 08379, 1st Dept 12-17-13