Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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A new, technologically-advanced system that integrates video and cameras, license plate readers and crime reports is now being used by investigators with the New York City Police Department in an effort to bolster their cases. humaneye.jpg

New York City criminal defense lawyers want potential clients to understand what they’re up against with this new technology – and why it’s more important now more than ever not to rely on a public defender.

It’s called the Domain Awareness System, and it was designed in a collaboration with NYPD detectives and Microsoft Corp. software engineers. It uses information from various cameras, radiation detectors, crime reports and license plate readers.

It’s more than just a fancy new toy. In fact, it cost somewhere between $30 and $40 million to develop, which means officers will likely be using it a lot. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it is possible that the technology could actually end up making the city money through earnings of 30 percent of whatever profit Microsoft lands by selling the same system to other agencies.

Microsoft was approached by the department, and officers worked side-by-side with programmers.

Essentially, what the system does is create one place where investigators can log in and get a multitude of information on a suspect or incident. Law enforcement always had access to these tools, but they were scattered among many different platforms, and took time to amass for evidence in a single case.

Some of the examples the department is giving:

  • It would allow officers to access live video feed information to show who may have abandoned a suspicious package;
  • It would allow officers to enter a watch list of license plate numbers that will alert officers immediately if the vehicle is detected. That same system will also automatically show prior arrests, warrants and crime reports.
  • It will even allow officers to get a reading on a radioactive substance to determine immediately if it’s a naturally-occurring phenomenon or if it may be some type of weapon.

The technology will incorporate video feeds from approximately 3,000 department-owned cameras situated throughout the city, which are working every single hour of every single day. What’s more, police have the ability to review that camera footage as far back as a month – or longer if the Deputy Commissioner of Counterterrorism grants permission.

While police and politicians are obviously giddy about this new technology, there has been a good deal of concern voiced by civil liberties advocates, who argue that this type of extensive surveillance could amount to a violation of privacy.

Of course, the terms of use of the device indicates that no one can be monitored or targeted by the system on the sole basis of their race, religion, color, age, creed, national origin, gender, citizenship status, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliation, military status or beliefs.

However, the people operating this system are only human. We have laws to prevent that type of surveillance as well, but it doesn’t necessarily stop officers from engaging in it.

This is where having a criminal defense attorney who is also experienced in civil rights law can work to your advantage. If the evidence is not properly obtained, it can’t be used in court.
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Grand larcenies are up in Great Neck and across Nassau County, according to new figures released by the Nassau County Police Department. securitylocks.jpg

Our Great Neck criminal defense attorneys understand that the root cause is theft from parked cars that aren’t locked. In most cases, police sources say that valuables are left in plain site with the windows down or the cars unlocked.

Police say that suspects generally work in teams of two, walking down both sides of a residential street checking for unlocked doors.

From a defense standpoint, grand larceny is one of the most common crimes, though the severity of penalties ranges depending on the value of the items stolen.

NY PL 155.30(1) defines grand larceny in the fourth degree as any instance in which a person takes property valued at more than $1,000. Conviction on this felony charge is punishable by up to four years in prison.

NY PL 155.35 defines grand larceny in the third degree as theft of property valued at $3,000 or more, and it’s punishable by up to 7 years behind bars.

NY PL 155.40(1) defines grand larceny in the second degree as theft of property valued at more than $50,000, and it’s punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The most severe form of the charge is first-degree grand larceny, which under NY PL 155.42 is defined as theft of property that exceeds more than $1 million. That’s punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

If a person is convicted of attempting to steal valuables at any of these amounts but isn’t successful, the level of crime is dropped a degree.

With regard to theft from cars, we’d generally be dealing with either grand larceny in the fourth-degree or petty theft. Petty theft is a Class A misdemeanor, which means it’s punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Because Nassau County police have specifically stated that it’s not a rise in petty theft but in grand larcenies, we’re going to assume these are generally fourth-degree grand larcenies.

Because you’re looking at a four-year prison term in these cases, it’s critical that you seek counsel from an experienced criminal defense lawyer if you’re accused of this crime.

One possible defense would be mistaken identity, meaning the police either got the wrong person or you were maybe nearby but were not involved in the theft.

Alternately, if there is ample evidence you were involved, your attorney could argue that even if you were involved in the theft, the property in question was not valuable enough to rise to the level of a grand larceny. Your lawyer might therefore argue for a reduced charge.

According to a local newspaper, the number of grand larcenies is up almost 30 percent within the last year, from about 475 in 2010 to 608 in 2011.

Also increasing are the number of robberies, which police indicate jumped 13 percent, from 62 in 2010 to 70 in 2011.
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The case of a New York City police officer who was collared in a ticket-fixing scandal has taken a startling twist, with the prime suspect now accused of conspiring to have a key witnesses killed. handcuffsonblue.jpg

Our Great Neck criminal defense lawyers know that it will be critical for the defendant’s legal team to carefully review the state’s allegations.

The entire ordeal sounds like it could have been something out of a dirty cop movie – which is precisely why it has garnered the headlines. But in real life, the case won’t be resolved in 140 minutes. It’s going to be an arduous process of analyzing witness testimony, recorded phone calls that reportedly relied heavily on secret codes, and detailed review of bank and insurance records.

If the defendant and his wife, also accused in the case, have any hope of a favorable outcome, it is going to involve a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Here are the basics of what we know of this complex case:

Ticket-fixing among the ranks has long persisted, a well-oiled system for making tickets go away. This resulted in a large-scale, internal investigation into the practice that ultimately resulted in the arrest of 16 officers in October – including the one in question in this case. He was personally charged with attempted grand larceny, attempted robbery, revealing the identity of a confidential informant and allegedly transporting what he believed to be drugs for a dealer.

Following the 43-year-old defendant’s arrest, he and his 39-year-old wife reportedly used code while he was incarcerated to discuss hiring someone to execute a key witness in the case. According to prosecutors, the two spoke in code for various people and places, in one instance, using nearly half a dozen aliases for the same individual.

The wife reportedly went so far as to meet with someone she initially believed to be a hit man in her home to complete the transaction, though she stopped short of actually handing over the cash once she began to suspect the interaction was being taped, prosecutors say.

Now all of this might appear to indicate a strong case for the prosecution. But one must consider, in particular, the use of the discussions in code.

Similar issues have been raised regarding the Florida shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin earlier this year, where the main suspect and his wife are accused of talking in code in an effort to conceal assets. His wife was later charged with perjury as a result.

But the success of the prosecutions case in New York will depend on exactly what words were exchanged between the pair, and whether, in actuality, it amounts to code about a murder or simply the discussions between a husband and wife hoping not to have their every word analyzed.

This brings up an important point for anyone incarcerated: Your correspondence with anyone except your lawyer will no longer be considered private. Anything you say over the phone or in written correspondence can later be used against you. This is why it’s important not to discuss your case – or any other possibly relevant details – with anyone but your attorney while the case is pending.

We understand this can be extremely difficult, particularly given that if you are awaiting trial on criminal charges, you are likely under an enormous amount of stress. But this is critical because you don’t want those conversations being scrutinized, or worse, used against you in court.
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The New York City embezzlement defense of former state Senator Pedro Espada Jr. hinged on whether his earnings from his own medical clinics in poor neighborhoods crossed the line. targetwithbullets.jpg

New York City criminal defense attorneys know that it’s not a crime to make money, to do well for yourself. It’s possible that were it not for the political drama that was unfolding in the state at the same time, Espada might never have faced any criminal charges.

But as it turns out, he was found guilty of four counts of embezzlement, while a mistrial was declared on four other counts.

Espada is accused of pilfering taxpayer money that was intended to help poor patients and instead using it to treat himself to expensive ballpark outings, children’s pony rides and expensive vehicles.

But digging a little deeper, it certainly appears that dirty politics played a role in the case. This of course illustrates the need for a skilled New York City criminal defense attorney in cases of alleged white collar crime.

Prosecutors in this case took weeks to introduce into evidence mountains of bank statements, checks and credit card bills that they contended revealed a secret scam in which Espada and his son would funnel money from the clinics they founded into their pockets. They allegedly did this by overcharging for certain fees, such as cleaning.

Meanwhile, prosecutors contend the clinics (of which there are four) struggled with only a handful of doctors, never enough cash and machinery that was out-of-date.

Espada founded the first of four clinics back in the late 1970s in the Bronx. Each center provided social and health care services. The clinics were subsidized by government funding.

Espada’s defense attorneys say that yes, he made money off the clinics. But first of all, these clinics are situated in neighborhoods that would otherwise have no access to health care at all. And secondly, earning is not a crime.

What’s crucial to understanding how all this came about, though, is understanding the political climate in the city at the time Espada was first charged. Espada, a Puerto Rican street fighter, eventually graduated from college, founded these successful clinics prior to his election to his senate post. He had just been re-elected in 2008, and in a coalition with two other Democrats, demanded leadership roles within the Democratic party in order to alleviate what he said was a lack of Latino and minority voice. If those demands weren’t met, Espada and the others threatened to join the Republicans in voting on major issues, which would ultimately end the Democratic majority – the first in 50 years.

Espada and the others followed through with the threat, joining the Republicans. It was politically very ugly, and ultimately cost him his senate seat.

It was in this climate that Espada was accused of embezzlement from the clinics. He described it as a political “witch hunt.”

The gamble with politics sometimes is that you can lose big. However, disagreeing with someone politics doesn’t make you a criminal.

Having an aggressive white collar crimes attorney on your side in these situations is critical.
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Great Neck criminal defense attorneys are aware that some of our clients who require representation have, in fact, committed a crime. eyewitness.jpg

They are entitled nonetheless to a strong criminal defense that will give them the best possible chance of a favorable outcome.

However, there are those cases that involve clients that we know are truly innocent, of all or at least part of the crimes of which they are accused.

Unfortunately, the simple facts aren’t always enough to exonerate someone. That’s why aggressive criminal defense attorneys are crucial in these cases.

The sad truth is that not everyone falsely accused of a crime has access to competent legal counsel. The result, according to a recent analysis of 23 years’ worth of convictions, is that there are at least 2,000 individuals across the country who were convicted of serious crimes, and later exonerated.

It’s important to note that first of all, these are only the cases of which we are aware. And secondly, there are likely still a great number of cases in which the accused was in fact innocent, but their innocence has yet to be proven.

It’s estimated that there are approximately 1 million felony criminal convictions in the U.S. every single year. That means the actual number of false allegations is likely much higher.

This study, which was conducted by the University of Michigan Law School , as well as the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, identified 2,000 cases.

What researchers found was that 90 percent of those defendants – that’s nine out of 10 – were African American. About 100 of them were facing the death penalty.

About half were homicide cases. A little more than a third involved accusations of sexual assault.

Some 900 exonerated defendants had spent a combined total of more than 10,000 years in prison. That averages out to about 11 years a piece.

What ultimately resulted in exoneration for about a third of homicide defendants and two-thirds of sexual assault defendants was DNA evidence, which revealed after the trial that the defendant could not have committed the crimes of which they were accused.

The most common reasons behind false convictions was either false accusations or perjured testimony. That is, a witness is either mistaken with regard to what actually happened and who was responsible, or they are outright lying. It was determined that more than 40 percent of cases involved mistaken identification, while about 25 percent involved false or misleading forensic evidence.

That tells us something about the quality of the cases brought forth by prosecutors. While jurors are often apt to trust the forensics as presented by so-called experts, it’s critical for a good criminal defense attorney to analyze each bit of that evidence for potential errors. The slightest detail could have enormous implications in these cases.
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New York City hosts one of the best New Year’s Eve celebration in the world, but the aftermath can be difficult for many revelers who end up drinking and driving, and subsequently being arrested with a DWI charge in Long Island.

Not a good way to start the new year. Celebrations on December 31 are designed to create hope for the new year, that it may end up better than the year that has just passed. Being charged with a crime, especially one with such a negative stigma, can be tough to take.
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As most police agencies do around this time of year, New York law enforcement increased patrols around the holidays as well, setting out to remove drunk drivers from the roads.

But simply having a couple drinks and then driving doesn’t mean a person should be arrested or will be convicted. In fact, in many cases, charges are dropped or reduced because of a lack of evidence, so it’s important to fight back against these criminal charges.

The New York Post recently reported that DWI charges were actually down throughout New York City from 2011 compared to 2010. Staten Island had an 18.1 percent increase from year to year, according to New York police statistics. But Queens, which led all boroughs in 2010 with 3,297 arrests, had 2,961 in 2011, a 10.2 percent drop.

Brooklyn’s DWI arrests dropped 19.8 percent, while numbers in Manhattan dropped 16.2 percent and in the Bronx they were down 15.9 percent. Overall, DWI arrests were down 13.4 percent from year-to-year.

The newspaper reports that police agencies made a stronger effort in 2011 to make arrests throughout Staten Island, especially at the toll plaza at the Verrazano Bridge. That accounted for 80 percent of 2011 arrests.

In other news, My Fox New York reports that a Long Island woman was recently arrested and charged with driving drunk with her two young children in the car. The 36-year-old was arrested one recent weekday night in Suffolk County.

Police charged her with two counts of aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and one count of driving while ability impaired. The first two charges are felonies.

While some people consider a drunken driving charge to be minor, this situation shows that it can quickly escalate to a felony, which can lead to prison time. Even a first time offense can lead to serious penalties, including jail time up to 15 days, driver’s license loss for three months and a fine up to $500.

There are varying degrees of DWI charges in New York and other forms can lead to longer jail time and loss of a driver’s license for up to one year, depending on the circumstances. But every case has a defense and the state has a tall order proving the charges beyond all reasonable doubt.
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Most television police and law dramas don’t fully explain the process involved in the criminal justice system, and more specifically of criminal appeals in New York.

Perhaps that’s because it wouldn’t make for good television or be entertaining to viewers. That’s probably true, but for people steeped in the criminal justice system, it is critically important.
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The criminal justice system is a checks and balances-based system. Great Neck criminal defense lawyers are hired to ensure state prosecutors are practicing within the law and not breaking any rules and vice versa. Judges are hired to oversee a criminal defendant’s case and to make sure the defendant gets a fair trial in accordance with that person’s rights and the local rules of the court.

But the appeals system is to hold all of them accountable. If mistakes are made at the trial level, the appeals process is designed to make sure the defendant has a voice to fix those problems. Sometimes, that results in a new trial. Other times, it means the charges can be dropped altogether if the offenses are that egregious.

Most court officials try to do a good job with the resources they have. But there are examples of overzealous police officers and prosecutors and judges who abuse their power and the result is the defendant’s rights being violated. That’s what a good criminal appeal is for.

In the recent Maryland case of State v. Allen, a judge’s mistake in two separate trials led to the granting of a third trial in a major murder cases. And while State v. Allen deals with murder, this applies to any type of crime, including robbery in New York, burglary in Great Neck or any other type of charge.

This case goes back to 2001, where Jeffrey Allen killed his friend John Butler during an argument. According to court documents, Allen asked Butler for a ride and Butler wouldn’t. The two got into a fight and Allen stabbed Butler to death, drove the car off and later crashed it. He was subsequently arrested.

The state charged Allen with first-degree felony murder, first-degree premeditated murder, second-degree murder, armed robbery and other, less serious charges. At trial, a judge made a mistake when he told jurors that in order to convict the name of first-degree felony murder, they could find that he planned the robbery either before or after the murder.

On appeal, a court ruled that an “afterthought” robbery couldn’t be the basis for a first-degree felony murder charge. In order to prove felony murder, the state must show that a murder occurred during the commission of another felony, such as robbery.

The court upheld the second-degree murder charge, armed robbery charge and other charges, but sent the felony murder charge back for a new trial. During the second trial, the judge erred when he told jurors that the man had already been convicted of second-degree murder and armed robbery an that they only had to find him guilty or not guilty of felony murder.

By telling jurors the man had already been convicted of those two charges — the two charges that make up the felony murder charge — the judge essentially told the jury the defendant was guilty. Again, an appeals court granted a new trial.

This case may have been a rare example, but courts throughout New York have had similar problems. An off-hand remark or a blatant error can lead to a new trial or dropped charges, but only if an experienced Great Neck criminal appeals lawyer is on the case.
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Being arrested as a teenager has many long-term implications.

For one, the defendant has the obstacle of facing the criminal justice or juvenile justice systems with the possibility for penalties that include house arrest, community service, probation or even jail or prison time. Following that, an arrest or a conviction on a teenager’s record can disqualify him or her from getting into college, earning scholarships, getting a job in this highly competitive market or enlisting in the armed forces.
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Yet despite these problematic issues, juvenile crime in Long Island remains steady. Teens are arrested every day and face serious allegations.

One such case out of Iowa, State v. Pearson, shows why juveniles, if arrested, should take no action without consulting with an experienced lawyer, and that includes discussing the case with anyone.

In Pearson, a 17-year-old was charged with severely beating an elderly man. After he was arrested, he did the smart thing by invoking his right to silence and not giving a statement to police. But, the next day, he decided to talk with his social worker about the allegations.

Without his lawyer, the teen confessed to the crime. At trial, the social worker was allowed to testify about everything he said. The Iowa Supreme Court upheld his appeal, where his lawyers argued that his admission to the social worker shouldn’t have been admitted at trial. But the state’s high court disagreed and allowed the statement in.

And, as the WCF Courier reports, Pearson, who wielded an iron frying pan and broke it over the victim’s head, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The state’s high court ruled that his admission wasn’t coerced and that he freely admitted to the facts of the crime and therefore the social worker’s testimony was allowed at trial.

When a young person is arrested, like a person of any age, he or she is probably in a panic. They know they are in trouble and know there’s a possibility they could go to jail in the short term and prison in the long term.

So, what most people do is attempt to get out of the charges with their words. This rarely works. Police officers get training every year about how to detect people are lying. They have listened to thousands of suspects spin thousands of stories about how they are innocent. Most people can’t fool them.

And there’s a reason United States citizens have a right to remain silent. What they say will be used against them in court, so rather than hurt your future criminal case, it is best not to say anything. Remain silent, speak with your lawyer — conversations that will be kept private — and put together a plan of how best to proceed.

Talking with police will only bolster the state’s case. Enact your right to silence by asking for a lawyer as soon as police come knocking. The risks far outweigh the reward of speaking.
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In a sharply divided ruling, a panel of appeals judges ruled recently 3-2 that a man who pleaded guilty to attempted murder should have his prison sentence reduced based on a history of mental illness.

An 11-year sentence for a man who attacked a person with a machete was “unduly harsh,” so the judges reduced the sentence to eight years in prison, Reuters reports.
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Mental health issues have become extremely important in Great Neck criminal cases. As we have seen in recent years, people have been falsely accused of crimes and convicted anyway, which shows that there are still issues in our criminal justice system.

Mental health issues for defendants must be taken seriously by judges. There are specialized hearings that defendants may be entitled to in their criminal case in order to show they aren’t capable to stand trial or may have been insane at the time of the crime.

Many in the public would consider these to be “technicalities” or merely excuses made by the defendant. But those would be the opinions of people who aren’t trained to detect mental illness or understand its effects on a person’s actions.

Illnesses can range from the extreme where a person is convinced they are being told to commit a crime, to simply not understanding the consequences of their actions. Teenagers in particular don’t have fully developed cognitive processes and the results can often be an underestimation of the consequences of their actions.

In the recent court case, the 57-year-old originally from the Dominican Republic attacked a man without provocation in 2007, causing severe injuries.

According to the news article, the man had endured “unspeakable abuses” as a child after participating in peaceful anti-government protests. The ruling states he first started hearing voices as a 15-year-old. Shortly after his mother died in 2007 and after being declined by Medicaid, he stopped taking his psychiatric medication. That preceded the attack. Two months later, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Prosecutors argued that the 11-year sentence was “quite lenient” given the facts of the crime. After the man had controlled his psychosis by medication, he decided to plead guilty rather than attempt an insanity defense. He said he would prefer a known amount of prison time to an unknown amount of time in a psychiatric facility.

Despite the majority finding in favor of the defendant and reducing his sentence, the two judges who dissented voiced their opinion in a strongly worded dissenting opinion that said the decision was based on sympathy rather than case law. They wrote there was “no basis” to reduce the sentence. There was no evidence he was coerced into accepting the plea and that the judge didn’t abuse his authority in accepting the plea.

The ruling was a victory for the man, but also for defendants with mental illnesses who follow. A person’s mind can cause them to do strange things. It is appropriate for prosecutors and judges to take this into consideration when filing charges and handing down sentences.
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A New York City police officer was arrested recently and charged with civil rights violations after he allegedly falsely accused a man of resisting arrest and followed that up with a racial slur, The New York Times reports.

This is the second recent example of a NYPD officer being charged with a civil rights violation. In Brooklyn recently, we reported on our blog that a seven-year veteran of the force was charged with pepper spraying and handcuffing a person, then accessing state and federal databases to check the person’s background after an incident outside a bar owned of one of the officer’s relatives.
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Accusations of civil rights violations in New York can not only spark outrage, but can demoralize an entire police department. Big-city departments seem to constantly come under fire for race-related allegations, which sometimes lead to criminal charges.

Both the officers who face these charges and the victims who have been cast aside as second-class citizens require legal representation. A lawyer who has the experience on both sides of the issue should be hired to analyze the situation and best represent the client.

In this case, the 32-year-old white police officer is accused of approaching a black man on Targee Street in Staten Island in plain clothes and unmarked police cruiser in April and frisking him.

When the officer found nothing illegal, the man complained about the treatment and asked for his badge number. The officer arrested him and charged him with resisting arrest, telling the man he didn’t appreciate being treated with disrespect, The New York Times reports.

The officer’s report states the man flailed his arms, kicked his legs and pushed the officer during the arrest. The man spent 36 hours in custody. According to a federal complaint filed against the officer, investigators found text messages and intercepted phone calls on the night of the arrest that show the officer exaggerated facts in the report.

He not only is charged with a misdemeanor civil rights violation, but also extortion and insurance fraud, which could add up to 20 years in prison. The extortion charge is unrelated to this incident, but relates to the officer, who runs a plowing business on the side. Allegedly he lured a man he believed stole his snowplow to a parking lot, where the man was beaten by eight men.

The insurance fraud charges come from him allegedly telling a snow plow worker to bash a truck he owned and then say it was an accident. Investigators allegedly have a recording of the officer’s voice saying “these guys are dead” after learning he was being investigated for the beating.

This will be an interesting case for several reasons. The first is that federal prosecutors rarely file charges in a criminal complaint. They typically take the case to a grand jury, which has to decide whether or not to indict. Perhaps they feel the evidence is insufficient.

Second, the case is based on three completely different situations, which could be difficult for the jury to figure out. Whatever the resolution, let’s hope the victim and the officer receive fair treatment.
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