Nicholas Puner graduated from Harvard with a law degree. He married a woman and stayed married to her for 35 years. No one suspected that throughout his marriage, he was living a second life. By his own admission he would have homosexual encounters in secret during the entire thirty five year marriage. His second life was laid bare when he was convicted for sodomy in the third degree in June of 2000. He was 56 years old at the time of his arrest for sodomizing two fifteen year old boys whom he met in an online internet chat room named “Westchester M4M.” On September 7, 2000, Mr. Puner was sentenced to sixty days in jail and five years of probation. He was listed as a level three sex offender by order of New York states sex Offender Registration Act otherwise known as SORA. The New York Sex Offender Registry assigns points to an offender to rate his risk to the public of committing the same or similar crimes in the future. Mr. Puner was evaluated at 115 points which makes him a level three sex offender. At sentencing, Mr. Puner took full responsibility for his actions and vowed to never again abuse a child.
Mr. Puner served his sixty days in jail and was then released on probation. During his probationary period, he approached a person whom he believed to be a minor male child on the internet. On January 26, 2001, Mr. Puner had only been on probation for five months when he approached this person. What he did not know was that this person was an undercover police detective who was pretending to be an underage male. The police officer maintained a transcript of the instant messaging conversation in which the undercover investigator posed as a fourteen year old boy who was confused about his own sexuality. In the conversations, Mr. Puner discussed oral sex, masturbation, and penises with the child. At the time of this internet conversation, Mr. Puner was attending a sexual offender treatment program run by a psychologist. Mr. Puner’s probation was revoked and he was remanded back to jail. He received a sentence of sixteen months to four years imprisonment. On February 6, 2004 he was released from prison and on January 17, 2005 he had completed his parole supervision.
On September 23, 2005, Mr. Puner petitioned the Court to change his Sex Offender Registration status from Level 3 to Level 2. Mr. Puner argues that he is no longer such a high risk to assault young men as he had been during his first incarceration. Mr. Puner presented documentation in the form of a letter written by a psychiatrist who had previously labeled Mr. Puner as a pedophile. As a pedophile, Mr. Puner has a high risk to commit a similar crime. The psychiatrist’s letter stated that he wanted to change his evaluation of Mr. Puner. That Mr. Puner had been a closet homosexual, but was not a pedophile. The reasoning behind this recant was that the definition of pedophile relates to prepubescent persons. Mr. Puner’s victims had all been post pubescent, but still under the age of consent.
Mr. Puner further argued that he was not as great a risk because he was no longer hiding his homosexuality and was not inclined to seek out under age boys who were easy to manipulate. He stated that it was not normal for him to seek out underage boys but that the ease of association predicated by the internet made it irresistible. Mr. Puner stated that while he was in prison, he had attended a sex offender counseling program which had made him understand that he could not justify his actions or blame his victims. Although Mr. Puner put forth letters and a petition, he did not testify himself at this hearing.
Mr. Puner’s case was heard by Judge Barbara G. Zambelli and Mr. Puner was represented by Green & Willstatter, New York Sex Crimes Lawyers out of White Plains, New York. The State was represented by Hon. Janet DiFiore, District Attorney, Westchester County, White Plains, New York and Frederic Green, Esq., Assistant District Attorney.
At the hearing, Mr. Puner offered only one witness, his psychologist. The psychologist stated that Mr. Puner had committed his crimes because his inability to admit his homosexuality had led him more often than not to internet chat rooms. The psychologist stated that he believed that the chance of Mr. Puner committing the same type of crime was further reduced by the fact that Mr. Puner’s crimes were not motivated by any kind of “impulse control disorder.” He stated that Mr. Puner could and would control his impulses because he now realized that if he did not, he would go back to jail.
When the State cross examined the psychologist, it was exposed that he had no knowledge of the fact that Mr. Puner had been arrested in the past for similar criminal conduct and that he had also received psychological treatment in the past that has proved ineffective in preventing him from reoffending. In fact, a clinical polygraph examination was submitted by the State that showed that Mr. Puner had admitted to having sexual contact with ten minors under the age of 18, after he himself had turned thirty years old. He further stated that he had encouraged at least three other minors to masturbate while talking to him on the telephone. The psychologist was also ignorant of the information that Mr. Puner had reoffended and been to prison prior to violating his probation.
In light of this information, the Sex Offender Registration Act states that the burden to prove that there are mitigating facts that would affect the modification of his status rests entirely upon Mr. Puner. In this situation, Judge Zambelli ruled that Mr. Puner had not met his burden of proof and that his level three status would remain on his record. In fact, Judge Zambelli stated that since Mr. Puner is no longer under parole supervision that his sex offender status should actually be higher by 15 points. However, she was inclined to consider that his current response to treatment would be grounds to reduce it back to the 115 points that he is currently assessed which would leave him at a level three.
In other words, the Judge felt that Mr. Puner had failed to show that his response to psychological treatment this time was enough to validate a reduction in his sex offender registration status. Juge Zambelli points out that there is a significant risk of this offender repeating his crimes since he has consistently preyed on same sex victims. The Board on sex offender registration recommends updating the status of an offender who has a history of preying on the same sex victims. She further stated that she had seen nothing in the record to prove that Mr. Puner is an exception to the Board’s general findings. She was concerned by the fact that during testimony Mr. Puner’s own witness stated that Mr. Puner prefers to “sexually act out” by use of persuasion and manipulation. Since post pubescent children are more susceptible to persuasion and manipulation, it stands to reason that Mr. Puner is as great a threat now as he was when he was evaluated at 115 points.
For all of these reasons, Judge Zambelli dismissed Mr. Puner’s petition and his status remains that of a level three sex offender. Here at Steven Bilkis and Associates, we provide New York Sex Abuse Lawyers, New York Child Pornography Lawyers, New York Sex Crime Lawyers and New York Sex with Minor Defense Lawyers. Being arrested and having your freedom taken away from you can be devastating. New York Rape Attorneys will stand by you and ensure that your rights are protected. New York Sex Crime Attorneys can argue your side and make sure that you and your loved ones are considered. We make sure that you are not wrongfully charged or convicted of any crime.
Stephen Bilkis & Associates with its New York Rape Lawyers has convenient offices throughout the New York Metropolitan area including Corona, New York. Our New York Sex Abuse Attorneys can provide you with advice to guide you through difficult situations. Without a New York Sex Crime Attorney you could lose your freedom even if the state has not adequately made its case. In addition to Sex Crime Law, Stephen Bilkis and Associates can recommend New York Personal Injury Lawyers who will help you