Son of Sam Law

A Son of Sam Law is a law designed to keep criminals from profiting from their crimes, such as by selling their stories to publishers. These laws authorize the state to seize money earned from such a deal and use it to compensate the criminal’s victims. In certain cases a Son of Sam law can be extended beyond the criminals themselves to include friends, neighbors, and family members of the lawbreaker who seek to profit by telling publishers and filmmakers of their relation to the criminal. In other cases, a person may be barred from financially benefiting from the sale of a story or any other mementos pertaining to the crime—if the criminal was convicted after the date lawmakers passed the law in the states where the crime was committed.

The first such law was created in New York after the Son of Sam murders committed by serial killer David Berkowitz. It was enacted after rampant speculation about publishers offering large amounts of money for Berkowitz’s story. The law was invoked in New York 11 times between 1977 and 1990, including once against Mark David Chapman, murderer of musician John Lennon. Critics disputed the law on First Amendment grounds. It was argued that “Son of Sam” laws take away the financial incentive for many criminals to tell their stories, some of which (such as the Watergate scandal) were of vital interest to the general public.

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