Letitia James posts warning message

Letitia James posts warning message

New York Attorney General Letitia James warned Friday against a state law that allows voluntary intoxication to be used as a legal defense in sex crimes.

Under current New York law, a person accused of rape or sexual assault can rely on the victim’s voluntary intoxication as a defense. As of 2021, New York lawmakers are considering a bill that would end this defense for how sex crimes can be prosecuted. In 2021, former Democratic Senator Alessandra Biaggi co-sponsored a bill that would ban the use of victim intoxication as a defense in sex crimes and ensure that victims of sexual misconduct, incapacitated in due to drunkenness, would benefit from stronger legal protection and that their cases would not be weakened by their state of intoxication at the time of the facts.

However, the bill did not pass due to different language in the two versions of the bill at the end of the 2022 legislative session.

On Friday, James took to X, formerly Twitter, to warn against current state law as she advocated for justice for sexual assault victims.

“There is no defense for rape and sexual assault, and the victims of these terrible crimes deserve to see justice. Period,” she wrote.

News week contacted James’ office via email for comment.

James’ comments come after she continued to publicly support victims of sexual assault and harassment as she made a name for herself by taking on former New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo during the investigation into his allegations of sexual harassment.

In 2021, Cuomo was accused by several women of sexual harassment, leading to an investigation by James’ office. Cuomo has denied any allegations of sexual harassment against him.

In August 2021, James’ office concluded in a report that Cuomo had sexually harassed multiple women during his tenure. Cuomo questioned the “credible factual basis” of James’ 168-page report and has since resigned as governor of New York.

In a statement emailed to News week On Saturday afternoon, William Rivera, interim executive director of the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, condemned the state’s voluntary intoxication defense, adding that support from James’ office and Several New York lawmakers show the importance of the fact that “many victims are denied justice.”

“Intoxication in no way equates to consent, and it is completely unacceptable for our state to perpetuate victim blaming. With the support of New York’s top prosecutor, the state Senate and more than 70 Members of the State Assembly, it is clear that many victims are being denied justice. It is absolutely necessary to remove the voluntary exclusion in cases of intoxication,” he said.

Letitia James
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a press conference February 16 in New York. James warned Friday of a state law that allows voluntary intoxication to be used as…

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

After the bill failed in 2021, Democratic Rep. Jeffrey Dinowitz and Democratic Sen. Nathalia Fernandez continued to introduce legislation that would close this loophole as they co-sponsor a bill they introduced in 2023 .

“It happens more to women, but it can happen to anyone and it’s really something we want to see shut down so victims can get justice for the assaults committed against them,” Fernandez told Spectrum News 1 .

News week contacted Fernandez via email for comment

The bill has more than 30 sponsors, as well as support from district attorneys and community and advocacy organizations. Additionally, New York state legislators and advocates, including Dinowitz and Fernandez, organized a panel at Manhattan College in April to call for an end to the state law.

“Whether you’re intentionally or unintentionally intoxicated, to me I don’t see the difference,” Dinowitz said. “Being drunk, emaciated, and high is not an invitation to be sexually assaulted, period. You don’t give someone the right to rape you or do something else horrible just because you’ve absorbed bad chemicals in your body.”

News week also contacted Dinowitz by email for comment.

According to Riverdale Press, Dinowitz vows to try to get the new bill on the agenda before the end of the legislative session. The current version of the bill in the Assembly matches the Senate version.

The voluntary intoxication defense has already been eliminated in several state laws, including Minnesota’s in 2021.