marijuana drugs dope arrest confiscated potWhat type of drug cases do you handle?

Our offices handles every type of drug case, from relatively minor prosecutions for possession of marijuana, to defending those who are charged will selling “hard drugs.”  There is a big difference between the kind of sentences imposed for what are called hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, and soft drugs such as marijuana. While selling marijuana is prosecuted relatively tepidly in New York, Brooklyn and Queens courts, in Nassau and Suffolk County counties, they generally prosecute even marijuana possession quite aggressively.

We represent people who are charged with the possession and/or sale of cocaine and heroin, which used to be subject to very severe penalties under the “Rockefeller Drug Laws,” which were in effect in New York for decades. Recent changes in the law have significantly reduced these penalties.

The unauthorized possession or sale of prescription bills can also subject a person to serious criminal charges.  Some of these pharmaceuticals are manufactured in illegal laboratories.

What are some of the pills that you’ve seen?

We have defended clients who were charged with illegally obtaining such drugs as Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percocet.

How are the crimes of sale and possession defined in New York?

Possession is not penalized as severely as crimes relating to the sale of illegal narcotics. It is possible to inadvertently commit the crime of selling drugs by buying some drugs and then giving or selling a small amount to a friend. Although the person may not intend to become a “drug dealer,” he is inadvertently committing a much more serious offense than merely possessing drugs. 

The system works in the following way:  If the authorities arrest you for possessing a narcotics of a certain weight, you would often want to make a plea deal with the prosecutor. It is sometimes necessary for you to cooperate with the police or the district attorney’s office by giving them information to assist in the prosecution of someone on a higher level in the drug dealing chain. This is what happens to many individuals on the lowest level of the drug dealing pyramid structure who are caught by narcotics agents, or “narcs,” as they sell drugs on the street.

As indicated earlier in this post, New York City, Brooklyn and Queens counties treat drug crimes differently than they do in Nassau and Suffolk counties. In the latter, these cases are more vigorously prosecuted in the Long Island suburbs than they are in the city.

Picture courtesy of hiptics.com

According to an Associated Press report, an 18 year old freshman at Hofstra University came to police on Sunday (9/13/09) claiming that she had been tied up and gang-raped by five men in a men’s dormitory. After her statement to the police, they arrested four of the five young men. On Wednesday night, word that one of the young men had a cell phone video of their encounter with the young woman, showing that everything that occured between her and the five men had been consensual. This prompted her to recant her story and the police released the four men. The Nassau County District Attorney’s office is considering charges against the young woman, who’s name has not been released, for filing a false report with the police. 

Hofstra RapeCan this woman be prosecuted criminally for filing a false affidavit with the police? Would the young men have a valid civil case against her for false imprisonment?

According to New York Penal Law § 210.10,  one may be convicted of perjury in the second degree, a Class E Felony, if she:

  1. Swears falsely
  2. Does so in a document for which an oath or affirmation to tell the truth is required (like an affidavit)
  3. The person intends “to  mislead  a public servant (like a police officer)  in the performance of his official
      functions”
  4. The matter the person lied about is “material” to the proceeding/action about which she is lying.

If this woman’s false statement was not only made in an oral statement to police, but sworn to in an affidavit, then the public reports would seem to indicate that the other elements of felony perjury are there. If she is convicted of a Class E felony, the class of felonies with the shortest jail term, it is still possible for her to be sentenced for upwards of a year.

If the young men sue their accusor in a civil court for “false imprisonment,” they must be able to show that she had the intent to cause them to be confined, and that the young men had no “reasonable means of escape.” Parvi v. City of Kingston. Even if she only caused them indirectly (e.g. by using the police to do the imprisoning on her behalf) to become imprisoned, as opposed to physically imprisoning them herself, she can still be liable. 14 N.Y.Prac., New York Law of Torts § 1:24. And where one instigates the police to arrest someone may also be liable for the tort of false imprisonment. Celnick v. Freitag,  662 N.Y.S.2d 37 (1st Dept.1997).

In sum, if the public reports are based on admissible facts, then the Hofstra rape case accusor may not only be arrested and imprisoned for perjuring herself by falsely accusing these men of rape, they may also have a cause of action against her for monetary damages for causing them to be falsely imprisoned.

As always, if you need a criminal defense lawyer  in NY because you are charged with making a false statement to police, perjury, rape, or any other crime for that matter, you can always call our office, which has about thirty years of experience in criminal defense. On the other hand, if you need a personal injury attorney to sue someone for physically confining you if you need someone to defend you against such a claim, or you need to sue someone for any other type of injury, our office has significant experience in personal injury law as well. And you can contact our office at 800-344-6431 anytime 24/7.

Picture of three of the accused men, Kevin Tavares, second from left, Stalin Felipe, center, and Rondell Bedward, right, courtesy of Frank Eltman.

spotlightTwo articles that originally appeared on this blog were recently featured at GetLegal.com.

One article which originally appeared here was published at GetLegal at the very end of last month: COMMENTARY:  Fetal Homicide Laws & Legal Abortion – The Common Denominator

The other article which originally appeared here was published this past Monday: Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) Without Actually Driving

Picture courtesy of Daron Sutton.

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.

establishment-clause-separation-church-state1Prof. Howard M. Friedman, at the Religion Clause blog, reported on the case of Sanders v. State of Texas, decided by the Texas state appeals court just over two weeks ago. In that case, Sanders was convicted of killing Angela Alex and her unborn child. He was convicted based on the Texas Penal Code § 1.07 which “prohibits intentionally and knowingly causing the death of any ‘individual’, and defines ‘individual’ as including ‘an unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth.’”

Sanders challenged his conviction, arguing that TX’s definition of the killing of a fetus “at every state of gestation” is unconstitutional because it constitutes a violation the establishment clause of the First Amendment as incorporated against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the Texas appellate court upheld the TX statute because the statute’s “principal or primary effect” was not to advance religion since it had a valid secular purpose in that it “serves the State’s legitimate secular interest in protecting unborn children from the criminal acts of others.”

While some may find this surprising, many relatively pro-choice states have laws that classify the killing of a fetus as homicide or murder. For instance, the New York Penal Code § 125.00 defines homicide generally as “conduct which causes the death of a person or an unborn child with which a female has been pregnant for more than twenty-four weeks…” (emphasis added)

Legislation was introduced on January 15, 2009, just three months ago, which would prohibit the killing of a fetus  “at any state of gestation…” (emphasis added)  The new language would be more similar to the Texas statute, classifying the non-consensual killing of a fetus at any state of gestation as homicide. Even if adoped, the new language would not take effect until November 1st of the year it is adopted and would not affect abortions performed consensually at the behest of the mother by a physician.

Only about one in seven New York residents believes that abortion by a physician should be prohibited. Nevertheless, the legislature stated that their intent was to give greater protection to pregnant women who are abused to the extent that the abuser’s attack causes her to lose her fetus.  The permitting of doctor-performed abortions on one hand and the classification of causing the death of a fetus as murder on the other hand may seem inconsistent, but this dichotomy plays itself out in many other states around the country.

California, a strong pro-choice state, defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus…” California cases have defined a fetus as such under the statute at “about 7 or 8 weeks” gestation, when its major structures have been outlined. People v. Valdez (App. 3 Dist. 2005).

States’ classification of killing a fetus as murder is inconsistent with the legality of abortion only if the measuring stick one uses is “when life begins.” But if one considers that legislatures are using a different measuring stick, those positions do not seem as inconsistent. The common denominator that runs between these seemingly inconsistent rules is the legislature’s desire to protect the wishes and rights of pregnant women. Whether the mother wishes to terminate her pregnancy or to prosecute an abuser who terminates her pregnancy through the use of violence, in both cases the legislature’s desire is to honor those wishes.

The fact that even the most pro-choice states classify the killing of a fetus as murder in their criminal statutes indicates that such a classification is certainly not intended as an establishment of religious doctrine as state law. Rather, the fact that states consider non-consensual abortion to be murder while consensual abortion is perfectly legal indicates that in this area of the law, the interests, choices, and wishes of pregnant women are the overriding concern, rather than any attempt at a consistent definition of “when life begins.”

Picture courtesy of Dartmouth Independent.

drunk-sleeping-behind-wheelIn New York, pursuant to NY VTL § 1192, one may be convicted of the serious criminal offence of Driving While Intoxicated (“DWI”) if he “operate[s] a motor vehicle” while legally intoxicated. The question is: What does it mean to “operate a motor vehicle”? Is it enough to turn on the engine to violate the statute? Can you be arrested for walking toward your car? What if you sit in the car with the keys in your pocket?

In a case in Connecticut, People v. Cyr, officially released just two days ago, Michael Cyr was intoxicated, he started his car using a remote starter, and then sat down in his car, with the keys in his pocket, to go to sleep. The Connecticut court upheld Cyr’s conviction because, it explained, the law in that state is that “[t]he act of inserting the key into the ignition and the act of turning the key within the ignition are preliminary to starting the vehicle’s motor. Each act, in sequence with other steps, will set in motion the motive power of the vehicle… Each act therefore constitutes operation of the vehicle…”

How does this rule compare to the rule in New York?

In New York, if one is drunk while sitting in his car, and it is reasonable to infer that he (or she) had just driven, or was probably about to drive, he can be convicted of a DWI. In People v. Membrino, 181 Misc.2d. 796, 799 (NYC Crim. Ct. 1999), citing People v. O’Connor, the court stated the following rule for NY DWI convictions: Operating a motor vehicle “includes the act of ‘[using] the mechanism of the automobile for the purpose of putting the automobile in motion even though [the vehicle does not move]‘.” (emphasis added)

The court in Membrino further cited the Court of Appeals that “An established line of authority in New York and elsewhere holds that … operation of the vehicle is established on proof that the defendant was merely behind the wheel with the engine running without need for proof that defendant was observed driving the car, i.e., operating it so as to put it in motion.” (emphasis added)

As stated above, even if police make a reasonable inference that one is aboutto drive intoxicated, he may be convicted of a DWI. In the case of People v. Marriott, 37 A.D.2d 868, the defendant was observed twice by police in his car; the first time with the engine off and the second time with the engine on. The court there held that since it was reasonable to infer that Marriott was about to dive, the act of sitting in the car with the engine on constituted “operating a motor vehicle” while intoxicated.

In Connecticut, the mere act of sitting in a car while drunk is enough to violate the statue, but New York is slightly more lenient. The Court in O’Connor at least stated that “[w]here there exists a logical, credible explanation such an inference can be defeated [because  t]he definition of operation cannot so alter its ordinary meaning as to create a new crime not intended by the legislature.” 

The defendent has the burden of rebutting the presumption that he was about to drive his car, so specific facts must be garnered showing a reasonable explanation why the defendant was in his car.

As Gideon, at the Public Defender blog points out, a person may just be sitting in his car with the engine on so that he has a warm place in the winter to sleep off whatever he drank. In New York though, the defendant must provide facts which indicate a reasonable, alternative explanation for the client’s presence in the car in order to avoid a DWI conviction.

As always, if you or someone you know has been arrested for a DWI, give us a call.

Picture courtesy of jalopnik.

drugs-gun-knifeOn March 4th, Senator Schneiderman, et al, introduced a number of revisions to the Rockefeller era strict drug laws to the New York State Legislature. The law were originally introduced during the tenure of the then-Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller in 1973. The laws provide for mandatory sentencing minimums for various drug offences.

Perhaps fearing that he would not be able to garner enough support to pass these changes as a stand-alone bill, Governor Paterson and the legislature are making these amendments to the NY PenalCode part of their vote on the budget.

The new law would give judges more sentencing leeway with narcotics offenders.  They could be sentenced to local jails, probation, a military-style “shock camp” or a prison-run drug treatment facility.

Many have lamented the dramatic increase in the U.S. prison population from 300,000 in 1973 to about 2.3 million today. One obvious reason is the large number of drug offenders. Certainly by defining fewer things as criminal, or sentencing drug offenders to treatment rather than jail time, we can expect that the prison population to go down.

According to Malcom Smith, the New York State Senate Democratic Majority Leader, prisoners costs taxpayers about $45,000 per inmate per year.  And according to Sheldon Silver, it would only cost the State about $15,000 to pay for treatment in lieu of jail time.

Perhaps only time will tell if these changes will result in more crime through lighter sentencing or will be even more effective than current laws, while saving the State some much-needed money.

As always though, anyone who is facing drug charges should use a lawyer with significant criminal defense experience.

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