Essex County doctor found guilty of harassment but acquitted on sexual assault charges

Raymond Russomanno, a Bloomfield doctor charged with inappropriately touching the breasts and buttocks of several of his female patients, was found guilty in December on 12 counts of harassment but was acquitted on 2 counts of attempted sexual assault and 12 counts of criminal sexual contact. Russomanno faces up to 30 days in jail for each count of harassment, or up to 360 days total. He’s also awaiting sentencing for a 2011 conviction for 4 counts of criminal sexual contact and will be sentenced for both convictions simultaneously.

 

Although the doctor in this case was acquitted of attempted sexual assault, it’s possible that such an offense could be found in the doctor-patient context. As set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2, an actor would be guilty of the crime if he attempted to commit an act of sexual penetration in circumstances where the victim was detained in a hospital or other institution and the actor had some supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim by virtue of his legal, professional, or occupational status. Proving that a patient is “detained” and subject to a doctor’s “supervisory” powers is a difficult task, and likely the reason why these charges were dismissed.

 

Criminal sexual contact is a less serious offense and generally covers inappropriate sexual touching, but some aggravating factor usually has to be in play for the offense to apply, such as the use of force or the involvement of children. For adult victims who have already consented to be examined by a doctor, even criminal sexual contact could be a difficult charge to prove, especially if the nature of the medical examination being performed called for some touching of the victim’s body. The charge could still be sustained in this type of case given enough evidence, however. Indeed, the article noted that Russomanno was convicted of criminal sexual contact in an earlier case also involving alleged sexual abuse of his patients.

 

In the end, Russomanno was convicted only for harassment, which isn’t usually considered a sex offense. Harassment, rather, is a petty disorderly persons offense that occurs when a person subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so. As the article noted, harassment is punishable by up to 30 days per count.

Essex County prosecutors accuse teacher of sexual abuse

A former “Teacher of the Year” from West Orange was recently accused of sexually abusing a 15 year old boy in her English class. The teacher, who former students say was “flirtatious” and prone to inappropriate behavior, was charged with first degree aggravated sexual assault, second degree sexual assault, and endangering the welfare of a child.

 

Sexual assault is a second degree crime in New Jersey and is punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison, severe fines, and inclusion in the state’s sex offender registry. However, the charges can be upgraded to first degree aggravated sexual assault in situations such as this one where the actor had supervisory authority over the victim. First degree aggravated sexual assault carries penalties of up to 20 years in jail upon conviction and requires lifetime registration as a sex offender.

 

If you’ve been accused of a sex crime in Essex County or anywhere else in New Jersey, contact a lawyer immediately to discuss your case and the chances for having your charges reduced or dismissed. A skilled criminal defense lawyer will help you understand the complexities of the trial process and fight for your right to a fair trial throughout the ordeal.

 

I am Anthony N. Palumbo, a partner at the firm of Palumbo & Renaud, and you can schedule a free and confidential consultation with me by contacting me online www.palumbo-renaud.com or at 908-337-7353.

Essex County court finds no Sixth Amendment right to self-representation in commitment proceedings under the Sexually Violent Predator Act

The Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County, ruled in June that there is no constitutional right to self-representation in commitment hearings held pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA). The case, In re Civil Commitment of D.Y.., involved a 52 year old man who was committed as a sexually violent predator after serving time for first degree aggravated sexual assault.

 

The SVPA provides for the involuntary commitment of any person “who has been convicted… of a sexually violent offense… and suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined to a secure facility for control, care and treatment.” Involuntary commitment requires the state to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the individual poses a threat to the health and safety of others. In this case, the trial court ruled that the prosecution met this standard based on the defendant’s long history of repeated pedophiliac sexual assaults and expert testimony establishing that he was sexually attracted to young males and had anti-social personality disorder. The defendant’s high risk of reoffending was also indicated by his longstanding resistance to treatment and his denial of sexual deviation.

 

At the defendant’s commitment hearing, his lawyer informed the court that he wished to represent himself. The trial court denied this request, however, because of a provision in the statute requiring defendants to be represented by legal counsel. The defendant argued on appeal that this violated his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation, but the Superior Court disagreed. As the court explained, the right to self-representation applies only to criminal prosecutions and does not extend to civil actions such as commitment proceedings brought under the SVPA.

 

Even though defendants have the right to represent themselves in criminal proceedings for sex crimes and other offenses, having an attorney is invaluable and can mean the difference between conviction and acquittal. If you’ve been charged with a sexual offense in New Jersey and need a defense attorney to represent you, contact the law firm of Palumbo & Renaud to arrange a free and confidential consultation.

 

New Jersey Appellate Division affirms rapist’s continued civil commitment on appeal from Essex County court order

In Matter of the Civil Commitment of N.U.M., a case on appeal from an Essex County court, the New Jersey Appellate Division recently upheld the continued civil commitment of a sex offender who was initially sentenced to the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center after pleading guilty to crimes associated with the rapes of two 14 year old girls in 1983.

 

In order to be civilly committed to a sex offender treatment program or have such a sentence continued, the state has to prove that the sex offender suffers from “a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility for control, care and treatment.” Once an offender is sentenced to civil commitment, hearings are held annually to review whether he should remain committed. In order to merit continuation of the sentence, the state must prove by clear and convincing evidence that “the individual has serious difficulty in controlling sexually harmful behavior such that it is highly likely that he… will not control his… sexually violent behavior and will reoffend.”

 

The state’s experts testified in this case that the sex offender “suffers from a mental abnormality and personality disorder… that predispose him to engage in acts of sexual violence.” The sex offender also testified on his own behalf, but the trial judge didn’t believe his assertions that he had made up his past history of sexual assaults. The Appellate Division found these conclusions to be supported by the record and, overall, agreed that the sex offender had not sufficiently mitigated his risk of recidivism to warrant release from civil commitment.

 

As this case demonstrates, the consequences of being convicted for a sex crime can be severe and long lasting. In addition to civil commitment under the Sexually Violent Predator Act, sex offenders are often sentenced to prison time and fines, as well as the registration requirements of New Jersey’s Megan’s Law.

 

Having an attorney by your side

If you’ve been charged with a sex crime in Essex County or need assistance fighting a sexually-related civil commitment order, contact me, Anthony N. Palumbo, New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney, through the email form on my website or call me at 1-866-664-8118 for a free and confidential consultation. As a former prosecutor and current defense lawyer with more than 35 years of experience, I know the best strategies for protecting your rights and I will help to guide you through this difficult process.