ALBANY – Two years after a woman was shot dead in a Buffalo hospital by an estranged boyfriend who had been stalking her, the state on Wednesday made the use of electronic devices to follow someone with the intent of hurting them part of New York’s anti-stalking laws.
Though not as strong as an earlier version of the legislation, the final bill signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo is believed by advocates to be a new tool domestic violence victims can use to report stalkers to police and to get help without having to file a criminal complaint.
The law was prompted by the June 2012 fatal shooting of Jackie Wisniewski in Erie County Medical Center, where she worked, by Dr. Timothy V. Jorden Jr., her estranged boyfriend. He installed a GPS tracking device in her vehicle to follow her movements.
Jorden later killed himself.
Before she was murdered, Wisniewski, who lived in West Seneca, found a tracking device on her car that had been installed by Jorden, who had been following her with the GPS for three months.
She did not file charges against him for fear it would upset him.
Backers say the new provision will make it easier for stalking victims to obtain orders of protection in family courts while cases against their stalkers proceed in criminal courts.
The new measure came with a compromise: The version proposed in 2013 allowed police to charge someone who used a GPS to stalk someone with a felony, but the 2014 bill signed by Cuomo amends the law to make it a Class B misdemeanor.
The Democratic-controlled Assembly blocked the provision with the stiffer penalties.
The law’s signing comes after a two-year campaign by the victim’s family.
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Tim Kennedy, both Buffalo Democrats who sponsored the bill, said the new law will permit police to now prosecute stalkers for using GPS devices without the victim having to press charges or file an order of protection.
They said that shifts the burden from victims, who might be reluctant to come forward, to law enforcement in stalking cases.
The lawmakers said there were more than 6,300 cases of domestic violence incidents in Erie County in 2012; 4,000 were reports filed by women.
Kennedy said the state owes thanks to the Wisniewski family for pushing the legislation.
“It is with heavy hearts that we mark the signing of this important legislation, as we reflect on the tragedies that have prompted it,” he said.
Peoples-Stokes said a dangerous loophole in the state’s anti-stalking laws is now closed.