There are presently more than a dozen pieces of legislation pending in the New York State Legislature to expand the use of DNA material. Recently a DNA data bank was utilized by Westchester County legal authorities to match the DNA of Francisco Acevedo for the murders of three woman in Yonkers from 2009.

Francisco Acevedo was arrested while driving intoxicated on January 26, 2009 in Brentwood Long Island. As part of that arrest Mr. Acevedo’s DNA was taken from him last year while he was serving a prison sentence in upstate New York. This was a result of multiple felonies convictions for driving while intoxicated convictions.

His DNA was compared to a data bank maintained by the State of New York which was established in 2004. The data bank linked him to three murder victims. Mr. Acevedo now faces multiple charges of first and second degree murder. Presently state law requires DNA to be collected from individuals convicted of felonies and a variety misdemeanors. The state of New York currently obtains DNA material from approximately 46% of all individuals convicted of crimes.

State Senator Dean Skelos, from Rockville Centre New York , wants the law modified so that DNA samples are taken from every single person arrested or under suspicion for committing a felony or misdemeanor.

State Senator Skelos claims that the Acevedo case is a good example of the types of crimes that would be solved if the states DNA data bases were expanded. Senator Skelos further stated that the expanded data base could solve crimes going back as long as 30 years. Senator Skelos was asked if he had privacy concerns regarding the expanding of the data base. His response was his job was to protect the public.

Expanding DNA data bases may be helpful in solving some crime however the over expansion of DNA collection makes me think of Aidous Hudley’s book “A Brave New World”. Americans are entitled to rights of privacy. A reasonable accommodation should be made for DNA collection but not at the expense of basic rights for American citizens.

If you are under suspicion or charged with a crime, contact the law office of Elliot S. Schlissel. We have been helping our clients with criminal matters for more than 30 years. Contact us at 1-800-344-6431 or by e-mail.

Picture courtesy of criminals.com.

In Ohio, cell phones protected by the 4th amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure by the government.

In a recent decision, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that police officers need to obtain a warrant in order to search a cell phone. This decision by the Ohio Supreme Court takes into consideration the fact that cell phones today go far beyond the means of basic communication. They are mini computers that store large amounts of personal information. From this point forward, the personal information becomes a protected privacy right, at least in the State of Ohio.

Although most searches require warrants, police officers are allowed to search their immediate surroundings when dealing with potential arrests for their own self protection. The Ohio case involves a man named Antwaun Smith. He was arrested on drug charges. At the time of his arrest his cell phone was ceased and later it was searched. The police found information important to their investigation on his cell phone calling records.

The recent ruling of the Ohio State Supreme Court was a divided 4/3 vote. The decision indicated that Mr. Smith’s protection against unreasonable search and seizures under the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution were violated. The court, in its decision stated that cell phones are “capable of storing a wealth of digitized information”. The court’s decision indicated that individuals using cell phones have an expectation of privacy which is protected by the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. 

The Ohio court’s ruling creates a new type of privacy. As hand-held devices become more and more sophisticated, they will contain more and more personal information. Individuals rights of privacy in devices that are basically hand-held mini computers should be protected by the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. I have every hope that when a case presents itself, the NY Court of Appeals will make a similar ruling that respects individuals rights of privacy against unreasonable searches and seizures of all types of hand-held telephones and computer devices.

Should you, a friend or a loved one be subject to what amounts to be an unreasonable search, the criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Elliot S. Schlissel can use their expertise and diligence to protect your rights and the rights of a friend or a loved one. E-mail or call us at 1-800-344-6431.

Picture courtesy of the Daily Iowan.

To Taser Or Not To Taser

January 25, 2010

(The “Don’t Tase Me Bro!” Video – See minute marker 1:50)

 The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that the use of a taser stun gun by a police officer can be considered, under certain circumstances, excessive force which leaves the police officer open to be sued for the injuries received by the tasered individual. The taser is an electric stun gun. It is powered by a lithium battery inside his handle. It shoots two bob prongs which are attached to the end of a wire that is 21 feet long. The prongs hook on to a person’s skin or clothing. When the prongs hit the individual, they discharge 50,000 volts of electricity for up to 5 seconds. This has the effect of temporarily incapacitated the tasered individual.

Although the taser is considered a non-lethal weapon, in some situations it has caused deaths.

In the case before the Ninth Circuit, Carl Bryan, had an emotional break-down after receiving a series of traffic tickets. While the police officer was writing out the traffic tickets, Mr. Bryan exited his vehicle and started to curse at himself. Mr. Bryan was distraught, crying and yelling giberish while beating his thighs.

A police officer on the scene, Officer McPherson tasered Mr. Bryan from approximately 20 feet away. Upon being hit by the taser, Mr. Bryan fell face down to the ground. The fall caused him to break four teeth.

The court held that at no time did Mr. Bryan present a threat to Police Officer McPherson. He neither made any verbal threat or presented a physical threat. The police officer should have spoken to Mr. Bryan first and warned him if he did not control himself he could be tasered.

As a result of this decision, Mr. Bryan can bring a civil lawsuit against Officer McPherson and his police department for injuries he received by the use of excessive force (being tasered) during his traffic stop. This is one of the first cases in the nation to create a legal standard concerning the use of taser stun guns.

Should you have an encounter with law enforcement officials who have acted inappropriately, call the criminal defense and civil litigation attorneys at the law offices of Elliot Schlissel by e-mail or at 1-800-344-6431. You may have a remedy available through a Civil Lawsuit.

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.”

Background

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.

In the United States today there are more than more than twenty-two hundred (2,200) juveniles who are incarcerated as adults. These juveniles are serving life sentences without the ability to obtain parole (to be released from jail prior to the end of their sentence). Among the twenty-two hundred (2,200) juveniles, there are some prisoners who are as young as thirteen (13) years old.

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court, in a close decision (5-4), held that an individual who committed a crime when he or she was younger than eighteen (18) years of age cannot be executed. The court held this was unconstitutional.

On Monday, November 16, 2009, attorneys representing two minors sentenced in the State of Florida argued before the United States Supreme Court that the theory behind the prior death penalty decision in 2005 should also be extended to minors receiving life sentences.

The theory behind the death penalty decision of the United States Supreme Court was based on two key factors: (1) minors are not as culpable for this crimes as adults and they can be reformed and (2) The Supreme Court held that it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” to execute minors. Cruel and unusual punishment is banned by the 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Terrence Graham and another individual robbed a restaurant. He is in jail for this crime. In 2004, when he was only seventeen (17) years of age, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. This action was taken because he violated the terms of his probation by committing another robbery at gun point.

Joseph Sullivan, committed a burglary when he was thirteen years old. He thereafter was convicted of sexual battery against a seventy-two year old woman. Joseph Sullivan, a mentally disabled individual, has been convicted of several serious felonies and seventeen criminal offenses overall.

In the aforementioned two cases, both of the juveniles were given life sentences for crimes that did not involve homicides. It should be noted that more than 135 countries throughout the world do not allow life sentences for juveniles.

The United Nations Treaty prevents the imprisonment of children without the possibility of parole. All of the countries who are members of the United Nations with the exception of the United States and lonely Samoa have executed this treaty.

Is our society mature and sophisticated enough to deal with errant juveniles without warehousing them in prisons for their entire life?

-Elliot S. Schlissel, Esq.

800-344-6431

Picture courtesy of acslaw.org

arrest car police officer handcuffs

Have you ever failed to pay all or part of a ticket, and then unknowingly had your license suspended, and then continued to drive using that suspended license?[1] Have you ever hung out in a club or bar where people were using drugs?[2] Do you know anyone who has failed to keep their property clean?[3] If so, it is possible for the police to arrest you and, until recently in New York City,[4] strip search you!

The law in New York states that a police officer may arrest you if he sees you commit a misdemeanor.[5] The three crimes listed above (and many others) qualify as misdemeanors, and so if the police observe you committing one of them, they are permitted to, but are not obligated to, arrest you.

The New York City Department of Corrections made it a practice to strip searchall misdemeanants charged with drug or weapons crimes who were detained upon arrest as well. The City claimed that “like felony detainees, [these misdemeanants] could never legitimately claim that they had a ‘right’ not to be strip searched.”[6] 

Unfortunately, there are major problems with the City’s logic. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as applied against the States by the 14th Amendment, prohibits the government from conducting “unreasonable” searches and seizures. Claiming that the Dept. of Corrections violated this Constitutional provision, a group of arrestees who had been strip searched at Riker’s Island without any individualized inquiry as to whether they were likely to be hiding weapons or contraband, sued the City of New York for violation their Constitutional right not to be searched “unreasonably.”[7]

Mark Hamblett, in the New York Law Journal, pointed out Southern District Judge Gerard Lynch’s recent finding in this case that the city is liable for violating the Constitutional right of those arrestees.[8]He pointed out that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that “it is ‘long-standing precedent’ that before a misdemeanant may be lawfully strip-searched on intake, the Fourth Amendment requires an individualized ‘reasonable suspicion that [he] is concealing weapons or other contraband based on the crime charged, the particular characteristics of the arrestee, and/or the circumstances of the arrest.’”[9]

Judge Lynch reaffirmed the notion that the Constitutional default setting of the police should be “Do Not Search” mode. Deviations from that require some specific, individualized justification. The police must have some specific reasons to justify a “reasonable suspicion” that a detainee may be in possession of either contraband or a weapon that poses a danger to the police.

The bottom line is that it is better not to commit any misdemeanors to begin with. But if you are arrested for one, the police need some specific facts on which to base a suspicion that you in particular have contraband or weapons (that would be revealed by a strip search) in order to conduct a strip search. If the police find anything illegal during a strip search, and the search was conducted without “reasonable suspicion,” you may be able to have that evidence suppressed. So be sure to hire a good criminal defense attorney to help you with this or any other criminal defense matter.


[1]NY Veh. & Traf. § 511(1) (West 2009)

[2] NY Penal § 240.36 (West 2008)

[3] NY Penal § 240.45 (West 2008)

[4]McBean v. City of New York City, 2009 WL 2524617 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 14, 2009)

[5]NY Crim. Proc. § 140.50 (West 2004)

[6]McBean at *6.

[7]McBean at *1-2.

[8]McBean at *6.

[9]Kelsey v. County of Schoharie, 567 F.3d 54, 62 (2d Cir.2009)

gps-tracking-car-device-police

Right now, it depends which part of New York you live in. In Westchester and Albany, the police do not need a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on your car, but in Nassau County they do.

On March 24th, the New York Court of Appeals heard oral arguments (video here) in the case of People v. Weaver, which will probably lay out a uniform rule for all of New York State (the Supreme Court of the United States has not yet ruled on the matter). In that case, the Defendant is appealing of the affirmation of his conviction by the Appellate Division, 3rd Dept.  People v. Weaver, 52 A.D.3d 138 (3d Dept. 2008).

In this case, Albany police secretly placed a GPS tracking device on the Defendant’s car to track his movements without acquiring a search warrant beforehand. The issue in the case is whether tracking someone with a GPS device constitutes a “search.” If it does, then the police must either get a warrant first or justify their decision not to obtain a warrant under one of the established warrant requirement exceptions. If it is not a search, then the  Fourth Amendment would not be implicated at all and no warrant would be required.

The trial court and the Appellate Division reasoned that placing the GPS tracking  device on the car was not constitute a search and thus did not require a warrant because the police were not learning anything from the tracking device that they could not have learned by simply following the car. The courts held that since anyone can follow any car on the road, individuals do not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” that the location of their cars on the roads will remain a secret.

During the oral arguments in the Weaver case,  Chief Judge Lippman asked the attorney for the government whether he would see any constitutional problem if the police decided to work with car dealerships to install GPS tracking devices on everyone’s car to watch their every vehicular movement. He elicited an admission by the government lawyer that his position was that such a practice would not offend individuals’ “reasonable expectation of privacy” under either the New York or U.S. Constitutions.

My legal e-pen pal, James Maloney, Esq., alerted me to this case and recently watched oral arguments  as well, and predicted that the new Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will pen a majority opinion finding that surreptitiously installing a GPS tracking device on a car does constitute a search and would ordinarily require a warrant absent some kind of exigent circumstances (emergency). Or, even if he does not write a majority opinion, that he would write a strong dissent arguing that placing a GPS tracking device on a car does constitute a search.

In this case, the danger of a limitless right by the police to track individuals’ every movement justifies a constitutional requirement that they obtain a warrant before doing so in order to avoid abuses.

As always, if you need criminal defense help or feel that you are being investigated by the police for a crime, you are invited to contact our office.

Update 5/12/09: I posted one day too early. I have not gotten to read the case yet, but apparantly the Court of Appeals just issued their decision in this case, finding that the New York Constitution does indeed prohibit warantless placement of GPS tracking devices without a showing of Exigent Circumstances by police.  LINK.

Picture courtesy of consumertracking.com. As always, if you need help with any criminal matter, you are invited to contact our office.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.