Defendant’s Admissions Re: Uncharged Sex Offenses Justified Upward Departure from the Presumptive Level—Criteria for Upward Departures Explained
In a risk assessment proceeding pursuant to the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), the Second Department affirmed the SORA court’s upward departure from the presumptive risk level (level two to level three). The court explained the general criteria for upward departures. First the court must determine if the People have articulated, as a matter of law, a legitimate aggravating factor. And second, the court must determine if the factor has been demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence. If those two criteria are met, departure is discretionary. Here the defendant’s admission that he had sexually abused two young girls eight years before the commission of the charged offenses was deemed a legitimate aggravating circumstance not adequately taken into account by the risk assessment guidelines:
A court is permitted to depart from the presumptive risk level if “special circumstances” warrant departure (Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 4 ). An upward departure is permitted only if the court concludes “that there exists an aggravating . . . factor of a kind, or to a degree, that is otherwise not adequately taken into account by the guidelines” … . In determining whether an upward departure is permissible and, if permissible, appropriate, a SORA court must engage in a multi-step inquiry. First, the court must determine whether the People have articulated, as a matter of law, a legitimate aggravating factor. Next, the court must determine whether the People have established, by clear and convincing evidence, the facts supporting the existence of that aggravating factor in the case before it. Upon the People’s satisfaction of these two requirements, an upward departure becomes discretionary. If, upon examining all of circumstances relevant to the offender’s risk of reoffense and danger to the community, the court concludes that the presumptive risk level would result in an underassessment of the risk or danger of reoffense, it may upwardly depart (see Sex Offender Registration Act: Risk Assessment Guidelines and Commentary at 4…).
Here, the People satisfied their burden. An offender’s commission of uncharged sex crimes may constitute an appropriate aggravating factor for purposes of an upward departure if, as here, those uncharged sex crimes have not been accounted for in the Risk Assessment Instrument … . People v DeWoody, 2015 NY Slip Op 02946, 2nd Dept 4-8-15