New York was the first state to enact a Son of Sam law in 1977. However, the law faced a challenge in 1987 in a case involving the Nicholas Pileggi book Wiseguy: A Life in a Mafia Family, on which the film Goodfellas was based. Pileggi wrote the book with the paid help of former mobster Henry Hill.
Publisher Simon and Shuster challenged the law. In Simon & Shuster v. Crime Victims Bd., 502 U.S. 105 (1991), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law for violating the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression, ruling it would have encompassed works including Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
New York revised its law in 1992, and the state Senate has passed legislation seven times since 2006 to try to expand the law, most recently, to reach people held not responsible because of mental disease.
A Long Island, NY mother who drowned her three children in a bathtub is now seeking some of the children’s estate. Since the woman was never convicted — instead found not guilty by reason of mental disease — some legal experts say she could make a plausible case to receive some of the $350,000 estate.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 is due out this summer.