No Felony Criminal Record in Springs Rape Case
A teenager who pleaded guilty to raping a young woman he knew in the parking lot at the Springs School earlier this year was sentenced to six months behind bars and 10 years of probation. A Suffolk County Criminal Court judge also ruled that his criminal record will be sealed.
Justice Barbara Kahn granted Bryan Siranaula youthful offender status last Thursday before she handed down his sentence. Justice Kahn agreed with Mr. Siranaula’s attorney, Daniel G. Rodgers, that he was a good candidate for youthful offender treatment, a provision under the law for those who commit crimes when they are between 16 and 18 years old.
On Feb. 4, when Mr. Siranaula was an 18-year-old senior at East Hampton High School, he persuaded a young woman to wait for him at the school via a text message in which he pretended to be someone else. Officials said the two had a prior relationship but were no longer in contact.
Mr. Siranaula allegedly dragged the woman from her car in front of a 7-year-old relative — identified in court on Thursday as her brother — who was with her. The rape allegedly took place in his Nissan. Afterward, prosecutors said during his arraignment in criminal court, he allowed her to go back to her car to comfort the child, who was watching from the car and sobbing. She told police she gave the child a video to watch and that Mr. Siranaula then forced her back to his vehicle and raped her again.
In September, Mr. Siranaula pleaded guilty to all counts: first-degree forcible rape and aggravated sexual abuse, which are felonies, and to misdemeanor charges of criminal obstruction of breathing, acting in a manner injurious to a child under 17, third-degree assault, and criminal impersonation in the second degree over the internet. A second rape charge had been dismissed previously.
Facing a maximum of 25 years in prison, he essentially threw himself on the mercy of the court, Mr. Rodgers said after the sentencing. The Suffolk County district attorney’s office, he said, had not offered a plea deal.
Mr. Rodgers had submitted a memorandum of mitigating circumstances — mainly age — although Nicholas Santomartino, an assistant district attorney in the sex crimes unit, opposed his application for youthful offender status because of the seriousness of the crime.
In her decision last Thursday, Justice Kahn referred to evidence-based development and psychology and brain science. She noted, court transcripts show, “the now accepted premise for the criminal justice system, that the brain of an 18-year-old is not the same as the brain of an adult. That young people who commit offenses are, presumptively, developmentally and morally different than adults.”
“Our highest court,” she continued, “has recognized that society’s understanding of juvenile brain function, and the relationship between youth and unlawful behavior, has significantly evolved. Studies have shown that brain development in adolescence is not complete, that young people often possess an undeveloped sense of responsibility which can result in impetuous and ill-considered actions.”
“Impulsivity and shortsightedness are often the hallmarks of adolescence,” she said.
The criminal justice system has accepted that rehabilitation, rather than punishment, is the goal. “This is particularly true with young people who commit sexual offenses. The nature of the crime does not transform an adolescent into an adult,” she said. Such principles, she said, “yield better outcomes than the knee-jerk responses of former times.”
In deciding to grant him youthful offender status, she also considered his lack of a criminal history, his age, his compliance during his supervised release on $50,000 bail, his cooperation with law enforcement, his apparent remorse, and “his willingness to accept responsibility for his conduct.” She also made reference to an evaluation from Barry Winkler, a forensic psychologist. Mr. Rodgers said he was impressed with how much brain development research the judge had done.
“In the interest of justice, therefore, youthful offender treatment is being granted to you, Mr. Siranaula, in the hopes that without the burden of a felony criminal record, you can be rehabilitated and lead a constructive and productive life,” Justice Kahn said.
Despite giving the defendant youthful offender status, the judge chose to keep the courtroom open to the public and the press throughout the proceeding.
The victim, whose identity is protected by state law, sat quietly in the courtroom with her parents and a family friend. She did not wish to address the court, according to the assistant district attorney. He said that she had handled herself with “grace and compassion far beyond her years.” He said she had not wanted the defendant to get the maximum sentence of 25 years, but did want him to register as a sex offender to protect others.
The D.A.’s office asked for a 10-year prison sentence, followed by 15 years of post-release supervision on the top count of first-degree rape.
The judge did not require Mr. Siranaula to register as a sex offender, but said that as part of his probation he would be subject to strict sex offender conditions, unlike regular probation, computer monitoring and psychological conditions, and drug and alcohol conditions. He would also have to appear in court to show compliance. His next date is scheduled for May 21, though it will be before a new judge; Justice Kahn retires next month. If he violates probation, he faces incarceration, Justice Kahn said.
Mr. Rodgers told the court that his client had never tried to minimize the seriousness of what took place on Feb. 4. “He knows what he did was wrong and he’s doing his best to take responsibility for that, today, by appearing in court and accepting his medicine,” he said. He had “shown genuine remorse, not for himself, but for the pain and suffering he may have caused to this young lady he knows well.”
The judge granted the D.A.’s request for a permanent stay-away order of protection for the victim and her brother. Mr. Siranuala also has to pay a $300 mandatory court fee and $25 crime victim fee.
He will remain on probation for 10 years without the possibility of getting off probation early, Mr. Rodgers said. That is double the amount of probation that any other felon would be subject to, the judge said. “There is no early discharge.”
With regard to the misdemeanor counts he pleaded guilty to, he was sentenced to three years’ probation and 60 days of incarceration, which will run concurrently to the 10-year probation and six months in jail.
Mr. Siranaula, who sat with his parents, family members, and friends in the back of the courtroom until his case was called, thanked Justice Kahn. “I know you took the risk with me, and everything. I appreciate it and I won’t let you down.”
After signing some paperwork, he was handcuffed by court officers and taken into custody. A GPS tracking device would be cut off of his ankle once he was at the jail. He was allowed to take a small paper bag with some belongings, including a toothbrush and medication, with him as he went off to serve out his prison sentence in the Suffolk County jail.
This article has been updated with the version that appeared in print on Nov. 15, 2018.