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Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to between 30 and 60 years in prison last week after being convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. Without any possibility of parole, Sandusky, 68, will spend the rest of his life behind bars. What he intends to do with his time in prison has raised more than a few eyebrows.
According to The Washington Post, Sandusky is planning to write a book to tell his side of the story. In fact, while awaiting sentencing in jail, Sandusky reportedly began working on the book with his wife, whose correspondence with him in jail became so frequent that her privileges were revoked.
If Sandusky does finish the book and it gets published, there is little chance he or his family will ever see a dime thanks to the so-called Son of Sam law. The law, which exists federally and in 42 states, is named for David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” serial killer who was convicted in a string of murders in New York City in the mid-1970s. Generally, Son of Sam laws prevent criminals and their relatives from profiting off their crimes in any way. If there is any profit, the laws typically direct that money to the victim’s family.
"Legislatures were trying to address what seems like a perversion of justice, in that criminals are supposed to be punished for their crimes, rather than profiting from those crimes,” says attorney Martin Sweet of the legal information website THELAW.TV.
New York was the first state to enact a Son of Sam law in 1977 after Berkowitz planned to sell the rights to his story. 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 argued that since the law was based on the content of a publication, it violated the First Amendment. In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed and struck the law down.
"The constitutional problem is that the State is punishing individuals for the content of their speech. If Sandusky writes a book about football, his victims don't see a dime. But if he writes about his crimes, he has to pay. The First Amendment generally prohibits the government from picking between speech it likes and speech it dislikes,” says attorney Martin Sweet.
The Supreme Court ruling held that the law would have prevented the publication of such works as The Autobiography of MalcolmX and Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. After the ruling, New York changed the law to eliminate the unconstitutional regulation of expression. In 2001, the state adopted a Son of Sam law that requires crime victims to be notified whenever criminals make $10,000 or more off their crimes. This version of the law still stands today.
The popularity of the Internet has also affected the Son of San laws in some states. Many such laws now include any profit gained from “murderabilia,” or collectibles related to murders and other violent crimes.
Penn State University is about to pay dearly for not only the sins of Jerry Sandusky, but for their own as well. The university is in the process of trying to agree on civil settlements with approximately 20 alleged victims of Sandusky, according to citizensvoice.com.