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Victims' Rights and the Son of Sam Law: Implications for Free Speech and Research on Offenders

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 6 Issue: 4 Dated: (December 1992) Pages: 275-290
R Alexander Jr
Date Published
16 pages
In 1978, New York passed legislation, known as the Son of Sam Law, to prevent criminals from receiving money from selling their stories to publishers and movie producers.
This legislation resulted from publicity associated with the 1978 serial murders by David Berkowitz. Subsequently, more than 40 States and the Federal Government passed similar legislation. Proponents of the legislation hailed it as a step toward victim rights, while opponents viewed it as a serious encroachment upon first amendment rights. In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held the Son of Sam Law to be unconstitutional, and victim rights advocates saw this as a serious blow to their movement. The author notes that the law is more complex than a simple conflict between victim rights and criminal rights. For example, the law is directed primarily at publishers and criminal offenders but its broad reach encompasses social scientists who pay offenders for participation in research studies. Therefore, the Son of Sam Law has serious implications for criminal justice policy and research and for first amendment rights. Protecting victim rights is essential but not at the expense of the fundamental rights of all citizens. Legal challenges to the Son of Sam Law at Federal and State levels are discussed. 38 references


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