December 17, 2009
We advise our clients not to say anything to police officers if they are pulled over, or are taken into custody. Even seemingly innocuous answers to carefully crafted questions like “Do you know how fast you were going?” or “Are you dealing with some sort of emergency?” can be used to clinch a conviction in what may otherwise been a weak case against a person. This is because when one is being pulled over, he is not being “custodially interrogated,” and therefore the officer does not have to advise someone of their right to remain silent before making incriminating statements.
But recent cases have shown that there are instances, even after one has been incarcerated, where there is no “custodial interrogation,” and one can be questioned without being advised of his right to say “I don’t want to talk.”
The famous Miranda decision allows a defendant to supress his or her own incriminating statements, so that they cannot be used at trial if they were elicited during a “custodial interrogation” without a valid waiver of the Miranda right to remain silent and right to counsel. The background to this rule was discussed earlier in this post.
In order to exclude one’s incriminating statements from evidence, the statements have to have been made without a valid Miranda waiver in the context of police “custody,” and while under “interrogation.” And while the meanings of those two words may seem self evident, they have developed very specific meanings in the Miranda context.
The recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Georgison v. Donelli, reported in this past Thursday’s edition of the New York Law Journal, is a good illustration of how particularly the term “custody” is defined.
While incarcerated at the Riverview Correctional Facility in 1996, New York City police officers were questioning Mr. Georgison regarding the 1993 pipe beating of a truck driver in the Bronx, a matter unrelated to his incarceration. During the conversation, he made some incriminating statements. After making those statements, he indicated that he did not want to talk anymore and walked away. At trial, those statements were then used against him at a trail relating to that beating. He appealed the judge’s decision to admit his statements into evidence, arguing that he was being sbjected to “custodial interrogation” without Miranda warnings, or a waiver of those rights, at the time the statements were made.
His arguments were rejected in this most recent Second Circuit decision. The courts held that “custodial interrogation,” for Miranda purposes, can only exist where a person does not feel free to walk away from the officers questioning him. They held that this was not the case with Mr. Georgison’s interrogation, where he felt that he was at liberty to walk away from the officers when he no longer wanted to speak to them. The courts held that this conduct indicated that he did not feel he was restrained or not at liberty to leave the interrogation, and thus that his interrogation was not “custodial.”
They held that it was irrelevant that he was in a prison, and was unable to freely leave the prison as a whole. Miranda only requires that the person being questioned must feel restrained from leaving the interrogation. Being unable to leave his general surroundings, however, is irrelevant for the purposes of determing the presence or absence of “custodial interrogation.”
Thus, one should consult a competent criminal defense attorney, such as those at The Law Office of Elliot Schlissel, before saying anything to police officers, whether it is in the context of a simple traffic stop, one whether one is already incarcerated. You can contact our office, 24/7, at 800-344-6431 or by e-mail for help or more information.
Picture courtesy of FBI.gov.
December 15, 2009
Many of us know that Chanukah is the Festival of Lights. One way that many communities have tried to spread the light of Chanukah is by holding public Menorah lighting displays in town and city centers throughout the United States and the world.
This raises an interesting question of whether public Menorah lighting ceremonies and public Menorah displays on city property violate the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause,” which prohibits the government from passing a law” respecting the establishment of religion.” The ACLU, among others, has litigated this issue in an attempt to stop people from holding public Menorah lighting ceremonies in public parks or on public property.
When Rabbi Yossi Kaplan, of Chabad of Chester County, PA, applied to place a public Menorah on the property of the Allegheny County Courthouse, the ACLU sued the county to stop them. The two sides ultimately took the case all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States, which issued its decision in favor of Rabbi Kaplan and Allegheny County almost exactly twenty years ago. You can read the decision of County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989).
The court held that given the context in which the Menorah was displayed, it did not appear to either endorse or prohibit a particular religion but, together with the Christmas tree that was also displayed, sent the message that both holidays held a place in the national culture, but fell short of actually endorsing a religion.
Thus, one can find public Menorah lightings in most cities with Jewish communities today.
December 14, 2009
Nowhere has this policy been made more official than in the Indianapolis traffic courtroom of Judge William Young, whose alleged conduct has brought a class action lawsuit upon him. The suit alleges that when this judge took office, he instituted a policy of levying a $500 fine against anyone who fights their ticket and loses. It further states that he instituted a policy of closing his courtroom to the public, thus shielding his activities from the public eye.
Some plaintiffs were individuals who had received tickets but chose not to challenge them because they asserted that Judge Young’s policy, of fining anyone who challenged their tickets, discouraged them from fighting, even though they thought they were innocent.
While not as egregious as the alleged policies of Judge Young in Indianapolis, recipients of tickets in New York have similarly themed complaints. Often, the structure of the legal system discourages all but a few from fighting even illegitimate tickets.
The court appearances which are required are so numerous and time-consuming that it is almost impossible to fight. Most people don’t understand how the system works and assume that the court date they are given on their ticket is the date when the ticket will be disposed of, either for better or worse. But this is not the reality.
In most localities, the first court date is merely for ”arraignments.” This means that people are simply asked to plead either guilty or not guilty. Often, they are also lulled into feeling more comfortable conceding their case by pleading “guilty with an explanation.” This allows the person to feel that they are at least getting to say something, while still saving the locality the trouble of having to prove guilt. This process can entail wasting several hours, taking off half a day, or wasting an entire evening in court.
If one perseveres and manages to plead “not guilty” on the first court date, he will have to come to court again, but not for an actual determination of guilt or innocence. Rather, he will usually come in for a “conference,” i.e. a meeting between the individual and a local prosecutor. If one makes it this far, most people end up making a plea deal with the prosecutor. So instead of paying, let’s say, $130 for a cell phone ticket+surcharge, you may end up paying only $110. Whoopee!
The prospect of this outcome alone is enough to encourage most people to cut their losses and plead guilty either at their first court appearance, or without even going to court. The time off from work or hours lost waiting in court are often not worth the $20-$30 saved by coming to a plea arrangement with the prosecutor.
For those brave souls who do not come to a plea deal with the prosecutor, there will be a third court appearance for the actual trial. And if you are lucky and the case isn’t adjourned to a fourth date for some reason, that will be your chance to disprove the locality’s case against you and either be found guilty or innocent.
The sheer investment of time and the time one may have to take off from work, depending on the time of the court dates, are enough to discourage most people from challenging their ticket.
For a person with multiple tickets or more serious charges like a misdemeanor or DWI, it is often worthwhile to hire an attorney, like those at our office, to represent him. If you need assistance with a traffic court, criminal, or any other kind of legal matter, you can contact the attorneys at The Law Office of Elliot Schlissel anytime, 24/7, at 800-344-6431, or by e-mail.
Picture courtesy of bizingo.com.
December 11, 2009
Anthony Davis wrote an article in the New York Law Journal on November 4th summarizing the state of the law with regard to privacy matters when one is using his work computer to send personal e-mails.
The Scott court also held that even if the attorney had a standard notice at the bottom of each e-mail that the contents of the e-mail were to be private between the attorney and the client, that such notice is ineffective to save the communication from the client’s constructive waiver of the privilege resulting from the client’s decision to use his office computer to communicate with his attorney. Thus, the court suggested that attorneys should advise their clients that they should not use their office computers for communications between them, especially if the attorney feels that there is some risk that the employer might have a motivation to look into the employee’s personal e-mails.
On the other hand, a New Jersey court, in Stengart v. Loving Care Agency Inc., 973 A.2d 390 (N.J. Super. A.D. July 29, 2009), came to the opposite conclusion. In that case, the court held that even an employer’s e-mail policy granting it access to all employees’ e-mails on their computers, will not be valid to waive the employee’s attorney-client privilege. The employer-defendant in that case has appealed that case to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which just heard arguments on the case. When that court comes to a decision in the matter, at least New Jersey will have come up with a definitive conclusion on the matter.
For the time being, in New Jersey, and especially in New York, you should not send any e-mails, using one’s work computer, that you would like to keep private. This is especially true if you are writing your attorney regarding a case against the employer on whose computer you are sending the e-mail.
It is better to either wait until you have access to your home computer after work to send private e-mails, or to use a cell phone, iPhone, or (privately owned) Blackberry if you have to send private e-mail during business hours.
As always, if you need help with any kind of personal injury, contract, or other litigation, you can call our office 24/7 at 800-344-6431 or send us an e-mail (not necessarily on your boss’ computer!)
Picture courtesy of The Office Rat.
December 10, 2009
Reports have been circulating the past few days that Tiger Woods has been in negotiation with his wife Elin to “update” the pre-nuptial agreement to induce her to stay in the marriage after news of several of his extra-marital affairs became public.
Originally, the couple’s pre-nuptial agreement, signed in October of 2004, stipulated that Ms. Nordegren would receive a $20m payment from Mr. Woods after 10 years of marriage, which would have been in the year 2014. But with the recent revelations, news sources have reported that he has offered her an immediate payment of $5m and an additional $55m if she stays with him until October of 2011. The new agreement would reportedly also given her even another $20m if she stayed longer (totaling $80m). It would have also required her to attend public events with him and allow him to show the world (and his corporate sponsors, who are sticking with him so far) that he and Ms. Nordegren had reconciled completely.
These reports make it (mildly) surprising that she left for Sweden this week, thus potentially forfeiting any payment under either the old pre-nuptial agreement or any new agreement. It would definitely be understandable if she simply felt that no amount of money is worth staying in a miserable marriage. Alternatively, her stay overseas may be temporary and the couple will be getting back together. Not much is known publicly at this point.
It is noteworthy that although most news sources are reporting that the couple were in negotiations to sign a new “pre-nuptial agreement,” that term is not the correct one. If a couple who is already married signs the equivalent of a pre-nuptial agreement, it is called a “post-nuptial agreement” because the nuptials have already taken place.
You can always contact the office by phone at 800-344-6431 or by e-mail for questions about pre or post-nuptial agreements, divorce, or any other kind of legal matter.
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December 9, 2009
Pursuant to EPTL § 3-2.1, a Will can only be probated if it conforms to the following requirements, among others:
- Will must be signed at the end and initialed on every page in front of the witnesses.
- The Will must be signed in the presence of at least 2 witnesses (Some states require 3)
- The witnesses must also sign an attestation clause.
- The “Testator” must “Publish” the Will by saying something like “This is my Will.”
A Probate judge in the Surrogate’s Court may invalidate a will based on several types of objections. If there is proof of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, duress, or undue influence, the Will will be invalid.
“Lack of testamentary capacity” means that the Will signer does not understand that what he’s signing is a Will, that he does not understand the nature and value of his property, does not understand who the natural objects of his bounty are (meaning that normally one’s spouse and children are the natural recipients of his or her property after death), or that he does not understand the nature of the disposition he is making (i.e., to whom he is giving his property in his Will).
A decision came out on Monday which is a great example of someone who successfully used the “lack of testamentary capacity” objection to the probate of a Will. In that case, several siblings of a deceased man successfully blocked the probate of their brother’s Will because he lacked “testamentary capacity.”
As he lay dying in the hospital of liver disease, the man’s x-wife and her lawyer got the him to sign a Will that gave her all of his assets. He died of the disease just three days later. In Matter of Stachiew, 96211/2007/D, a Dutchess County Surrogate’s Court judge denied probate in this case, holding that the proponent of the Will, the x-wife, had failed to prove that the decedent was sufficiently aware of the nature and extent of his property, what he was signing, and how he was changing his testamentary distribution plan through the Will. The judge found that the attorney had induced the decedent to sign the Will without regard for his ability to understand what was going on, and was not convinced by the attorney’s “self-serving” testimony to the contrary.
Cases like this illustrate how important it is that individuals hire a competent and ethical attorney who will take all reasonable measures to ensure that every requirement of New York’s Estates, Powers, and Trusts law is complied with.
Our office can assist you if you need help with:
- the drafting and execution of Wills or Trusts,
- Probating a Will or Administering an estate (where the decedent died without a will), whether or not a challenge is expected, or
- challenging the probate of a Will or Administration where there was some irregularity.
Please call our office at 800-344-6431 or e-mail us for assistance.
Picture courtesy of worlddub.blogspot.com
December 4, 2009
On Tuesday, this blog featured an article about what seniors can do to qualify for Medicaid if they forsee the need for nursing home services in the future, but do not yet need to go that route. But what if you or a loved one has already had to enter a nursing home? Now, you are faced with a situation where the senior’s life savings will soon be depleted by nursing home bills that can run as much as $10,000 to $12,000 per month. Is there any way to preserve the person’s assets, or at least a portion thereof?
Attorneys have used various strategies to allow seniors to preserve their savings for their children while still “spending down” their estate legally for the purpose of qualifying for Medicaid. One of those, which is not playing out as the most effective method, is the use of “personal service contracts” in conjunction with a lump-sum up-front payments to caregivers.
A better method is emerging for those who need “crisis planning,” i.e., trying to preserve assets after a senior has already entered a nursing home. This is the use of gifts along with promissory notes.
This method consists of retaining an attorney’s assistance to gift half of his or her assets to another while simultaneously loaning the other half of the assets (minus the $13,900 [in 2009]) to another with a promissory note for repayment. The promissory note must not last longer than the life expectancy of the lender, it must require that equal payments are made during the loan period without deferred or balloon payments, the note is not terminated by the death of the lender, and the note must be non-negotiable.
The attorney will assist the client in then applying for Medicaid, receiving a denial indicating that the person is “otherwise eligible” but for the uncompensated transfer of the gift. The applicant can then use the payments on the promissory note to pay the nursing home bills till the Medicaid “penalty amount” is paid, and then reapplying for Medicaid at which time the application should be accepted.
At that time, the person will have at least preserved half of her assets from the “spend down” requirement.
Maximum protection can be afforded to seniors’ assets by starting the Medicaid planning process several years before the expected need for nursing home services, as discussed earlier. But the promissory note/gift method, among others, is still available to seniors even if the time has already come to enter a nursing home.
For help with short term or long term Medicaid planning, e-mail or call us at 800-344-6431.
Picture courtesy of the Ombudsman Program.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday in the case of Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. the United States. The specifics of the case were discussed in a series of articles in the New York Law Journal Monday and yesterday by Marcia Coyle.
The Milavetz & Gallop firm, based outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, along with some of their clients, challenged certain provisions of the amendments to the Bankruptcy Code of 2005, called BAPCPA (Bankruptcy Abuse and Prevention Consumer [credit card company, actually] Act) on First Amendment grounds, only one month after it became law.
The Milavetz firm most prominently challenged provisions of the Code which demands that they place a notice on all Bankruptcy related advertising that indicates that the firm is a “debt relief agency,” thus equating law firms with the fly-by-night debt counselors you hear about on the radio. The firm argued that this is insulting to lawyers and an unconstitutional regulation of true, non-misleading speech.
They also challenged the Code’s new requirement that attorneys representing clients contemplating bankruptcy may not advise those individuals, if they are below a certain income level, to take on any new debt. Milavetz asserts that this rule unconstitutionally interferes with the lawyer/client relationship. It also prevents attorneys from advising clients to consolidate debt by taking out a new loan, a strategy which may help keep some people out of bankruptcy altogether.
Milavetz even said that if the high court doesn’t come down on their side, holding the challenged provisions of the Bankruptcy Code to be unconstitutional, “we will handle no more consumer bankruptcy cases…”
Hopefully the Supreme Court will indeed find these overeager provisions of the 2005 Bankruptcy Code amendments unconstitutional.
Picture courtesy of Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P.A.
December 1, 2009
If you, a spouse, or parent think that you may need the services of a nursing home in the near future, you should know that there are some things you can do to plan for this possibility and help maintain some of the person’s assets.
Nursing homes can be very expensive. Residing on one can deplete $9,000 to $12,000 per month from one’s assets on a monthly basis. You can apply for Medicaid to assist with these bills, but they will only begin paying once the person has completely ”spent down” their assets to$13,800 (in 2009) altogether.
There are steps that you can take which would allow you to preserve much of your assets for the next generation while still qualifying for Medicaid if and when nursing home services are needed.
When an individual applies for Medicaid, and the Department of Social Services is looking into whether the application has indeed depleted his or her assets down to almost nothing, they actually look up to five years prior to the application date to see if the person made any transfers to children or others in order to preserve their assets from Medicaid’s required “spend down” to poverty.
Elder law attorneys, such as the experienced lawyers at The Law Office of Elliot Schlissel, can assist individuals in applying for Medicaid or, for instance, setting up an Irrevocable Trust that may allow a senior to preserve his or her assets from Medicaid’s “spend down” requirement throughout their lives.
We can personalize these trusts depending on each individuals circumstances.
For instance, if someone has owned their home for a long time, such that the house has increased in value by $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for married couples, and if the Irrevocable Trust does not appropriately deal with this increased equity in the residence, there can be significant tax liability when the house is sold.
Regardless of whether you need an Elder Law attorney to prepare a Medicaid application or create any other kind of Medicaid plan, you can contact our offices at 800-344-6431 or e-mail us with any questions or to set up a free consultation.
Picture courtesy of injuryboard.com.
November 20, 2009
Click here to see Part 1 of the Q&A.
How does sentencing differ between the various types of drug possession and sale?
A variety of sentencing guidelines have been imposed by the New York state legislature in Albany. The guidelines relate to the how much of each drug one was found with and whether one is charged with drug or merely possessing it. They specifically provide more severe sentences for crack, cocaine and heroin than they do for marijuana.
There’s also a phenomenon of people illegally selling prescription drugs. Very often, drugs such as Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percocet are acquired by people who work in hospitals and then they’re sold on the street. These are drugs are prepared by pharmaceutical companies for medicinal purposes, but they’re abused when taken in inappropriate doses by individuals.
In what situations can somebody plead to a lesser offense?
If an individual is charged with possession of a drug, the person may legitimately have a drug problem. I will often suggest that such individuals participate in a drug treatment program to treat their addiction. If this is a person’s first offense, and was not committed in the context of any kind of violence – because the person did not, for instance, rob anyone to get money to buy the drugs, then an attorney can often convince the prosecutor that this needs help because he or she is suffering from an addiction, and therefore deserves probation.
For juveniles, the court may agree to have the young person sentenced to a “shock program.” Shock programs are generally programs where young people are placed in military-style, intense programs that include a significant amount of manual labor. These programs may be allowed in lieu of a sentence in an actual prison for a first offense. The sentences for these shock programs are generally much shorter than they are for normal prison sentence.
Although various kinds of shock programs have been around for a long time, the requirements and types of programs have changed. Today, they are often used in the cases of minors or young men who have been convicted of selling crack and other drugs on the streets of New York City, Brooklyn and Queens counties. Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties also have relationships with these programs.
Besides shock programs, the courts will often consider other alternatives to jail time. Parole and probation are also used. If someone has already served prison time, he or she can be paroled. Parole consists of a certain amount of time after being released when one must report to a parole officer. During that time, the person must avoid less-than-legal habits, people who are involved in criminal activity, and, of course, you have to stay drug-free.
A person may be put on probation, on the other hand, rather than a jail sentence, or in combination with a jail sentence. A person will generally be required to meet with his probation officer, usually once a month during the probation period.
What happens if someone decides to go into a drug treatment program during this process? How does that affect their jail sentence?
Judges often understand that drug addiction is a condition that requires treatment. They look very positively on those who are proactive and place themselves into a drug treatment program. But going into a drug treatment program is not a “get out of jail free” card. It does not mean that you will not get a jail sentence at all, but it can, in many situations, reduce one’s jail sentence or possibly convince a court to give an extended probationary period, such as five years, rather than sentencing a person to jail time.
What types of representation are available to individuals who have been arrested on a drug crime?
Two basic types of representation are available to such individuals. Legal Aid or 18B, court-appointed attorneys, are available to those who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. The other option is private counsel. Legal Aid and court-appointed attorneys work very hard and with great diligence to represent their clients. But unfortunately, they are often overworked and have limited resources. They cannot give their clients the kind of personal attention that would be available with private counsel.
Private defense counsel, such as the attorneys in our office, can advise you about alternatives to serving jail time. We work with organizations who help individuals avoid actually serving prison time. We sometimes involve social workers at one of these organizations to work with the individuals charged with crimes and we sometimes bring these social workers to court to make presentations to the judge regarding what is involved in the program.
It is important that one is sincere in order for us to be able to effectively convince the court to consider alternatives to jail time. We are often able, by working with the judges, the probation department and outside organizations, to convince the court that both our client and society in general are better off if the person is allowed to pursue treatment, rather than serving time in prison.
Unfortunately, jail can often create better criminals. We are able, very often, to convince judges that our clients should be given a second chance and that they should not be incarcerated, but should be allowed to continue in treatment programs to deal with their drug addiction.
How do criminal drug laws affect minors?
A minor can sometimes be charged as an adult. Sixteen and seventeen year olds are automatically charged as adults, while thirteen to fifteen year old minors may be charged as adults for serious and violent crimes. If ta minor is indeed charged as an adult, they will be subject to the same penalties that an adult would face.
The Family Courts in New York State are designed to handle cases involving minors. When charged as a juvenile, a minor will generally not be sentenced to a more severe penalty than being held in a youth facility until they are either 18 or 21 years old.
However, when a minor is convicted as an adult, he or she has the status of a “youthful offender.” When this is done, the court seals his or her record. So, when a minor is designated a “youthful offender,” his record is sealed and it does not show up as a criminal conviction in the minor’s record.
Employers often ask whether someone has been convicted of a crime when he or she is making an employment application. While one may not falsify such an application, checking “yes” on the employment applications can negatively affect the person’s future employment prospects.
Some judges are aware that young people often make mistakes. Our office knows how to effectively respond when minors are charged with drug crimes in getting them into programs. We have had success in many cases avoiding incarceration sentences and obtaining alternate sentencing. We can take action to induce the district attorney’s office and the judges to work with us in formulating alternatives to jail time for our clients.
The Law Office of Elliot S. Schlissel
479 Merrick Road
Lynbrook, NY 11563
Toll Free: 1-800-344-6431
Nassau phone: 516-561-6645
Queens phone: 718-350-2802
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