Staten Island Delegation Join Family of Caroline Wimmer in Push to Modernize Criminal Laws; Protect Crime Victims

Diane J. Savino

March 30, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. – The Staten Island Legislative Delegation joined the family of the late Caroline Wimmer, on the second anniversary of her tragic death, to push for the passage of important legislation named in her memory.

The bill, (S.3958/A.6376), would make it a felony for public servants to broadcast unauthorized crime scene images that were taken during the course of their official duties.

In March 2009, an EMT responding to the scene of Wimmer's death posted a picture of the victim on Facebook. This photo was later discovered by Caroline's mother, Marti Wimmer.

Under current laws, which were not written with social media sites, or other technological advances in mind, the EMT could only be charged with a misdemeanor. “Caroline's Law” would bring New York's laws up to speed with advancing technology and prevent future victims and their families the pain caused by similar heinous acts.

“No family should go through what we have had to endure,” Marti Wimmer said. “There needs to be real consequences when the people who are supposed to help instead cause more pain to those who were hurt, and those who are grieving for their loved ones.”

“We must make sure that our laws keep pace with evolving technology,” said Senator Diane Savino, (D-Staten Island/ Brooklyn), the prime sponsor of the bill in the State Senate. “Caroline’s Law will ensure that any public official who commits such a disgraceful and insensitive act will face jail time and will, hopefully, save families like the Wimmers from the double victimization that occurs as a result of these reprehensible instances.”

Caroline’s Law would create the crime of dissemination of a crime scene. This would make it a class E felony for a public servant, while in the course of his or her duties, to record a still image or motion picture of a crime scene and publicly broadcast, or publish, that image. As a class E felony, this would be punishable by 1 to 4 years behind bars.

"It is unfortunate that this legislation is even necessary,” said Assemblyman Michael Cusick, (D-Staten Island), the prime Assembly sponsor. “To the dismay of most New Yorkers, common courtesy has become uncommon. Caroline's Law would make it a felony for a public worker to disseminate insensitive, appalling images of injured or deceased people. This law will not only bring the penal system into the 21st century, but also will deter those who would take images or video of a ghastly accident or crime scene."

The EMT, Mark Musarella, was charged official conduct, a misdemeanor. He later pleaded to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, a violation that is the equivalent of trespassing, or possession of a small amount of marijuana. He was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and no jail time.

“It is imperative that the law requires that crime scenes, especially those involving the death of another, are treated with professionalism and respect," said Senator Andrew Lanza. "This law will advance that principle.”

“Mark Musarella acted with cold indifference to Caroline Wimmer’s family at a time when they were facing the worst tragedy of their lives,” said Assemblyman Matthew Titone, (D-Staten Island). “This new law will deter anyone from hurting a crime victim’s family in such a way again.”

“There is absolutely no reason a public employee - particularly someone entrusted to protect and provide for the safety of this city's residents - should need to publish or disseminate crime scene photos for personal use or benefit. And if common decency or simple human empathy does not compel them not to do it, maybe the prospect of a prison time and a criminal record will,” said Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr.

Safe Horizon, one of the nation’s leading victim assistance organizations serving over 250,000 people whose lives have been touched by violence, has issued a memorandum in support of this bill: “Increasing the penalty for this level of wrongdoing to a Class E Felony will send a powerful message to those who might abuse their official duties when responding to crime scenes. We urge the State Assembly and the State Senate respectively to pass this bill, and we urge Governor Cuomo to sign it into law.”