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New York City Criminal Defense Law Firm

In the past, the New York district attorneys who prosecute criminal cases have been able to withhold crucial evidence from defendants until just before a trial. This practice has heavily biased the criminal justice system against those accused of a crime. Only two percent of felony convictions happen in a trial; 98 percent of convictions are obtained through plea bargains. In other words, defendants could be forced to negotiate a plea bargain or prepare for trial without seeing all of the state’s evidence against them. This practice has led to New York being third in the nation in wrongful convictions.

Earlier Pretrial Discovery Benefits NYC Criminal Defense

In response to this unfairness, the New York legislature has enacted reforms that will go into effect statewide in January 2020. Prosecutors will now be required to complete pretrial discovery—the sharing of the state’s evidence—much sooner. Specific reforms include:

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Manhattan Criminal Defense Law Firm

Until recently, a person carrying a gravity knife in New York could be stopped on the street, arrested, and charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, a class A misdemeanor. As of May 30, 2019, it is no longer a crime to simply be in possession of a gravity knife in the state of New York. Of course, using any knife to intentionally injure another person will still get you charged with the crime of assault, and using a knife to threaten another person can result in a charge of menacing.

What Type of Knife Can I Legally Carry in New York City?

In New York City, you may carry a concealed knife with a blade less than four inches long in most public places. Note, however, that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) broadly forbids possession of weapons including gravity knives and box cutters on NYC subways and buses (21 NYCRR 1050.8a).

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NY Police Officer Attorney

When a New York City corrections officer is accused of misconduct, you need a lawyer for two reasons: for defense in a civil service disciplinary hearing to protect your job and for defense against criminal charges to protect your freedom. You need to win both cases to return your life to normal, and because the outcome of one will affect the other, a coordinated defense strategy is strongly recommended.

Criminal Charges Affecting NYC Corrections Officers

As an example of criminal charges that NYC COs may face, we will use an actual case reported in May 2019. Six COs are accused of conducting illegal strip searches at the Manhattan Detention Complex. In their defense, more than 50 visitors were arrested in 2018 for bringing in prohibited items such as drugs and razors. However, a similar number of visitors have alleged that they were sexually abused by COs during unlawful strip searches. These searches violated Department of Correction policy which requires written consent prior to a search and then only allows “pat frisk” searches.

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Queens criminal defense attorney police body cam evidenceIn response to constitutional rights violations committed by officers of the New York City Police Department, a U.S. federal court directed the NYPD to implement a body-worn camera program. As of March 2019, 20,000 uniformed patrol officers now wear body cameras. Civil rights activists have hailed body cams as a valuable tool for holding police officers accountable for their actions on the street and reducing incidents in which citizens claim the police used excessive force. The NYPD expects body cams to “encourage lawful and respectful interactions between the public and the police.”

NYPD Rules for Body Camera Recordings

NYPD regulations for body cam recordings include:

  • Officers must record all responses to a crime in progress, interactions with criminal suspects and emotionally disturbed people, searches, arrests, and uses of force. 
  • Specific situations not to be recorded include strip searches, interviewing of sex crime victims, and conversations with confidential informants. 
  • Officers do not need anyone’s permission to record public interactions. However, officers have been directed to inform you when you are being recorded. When a person asks whether they are being recorded, the officer must answer honestly unless doing so “would compromise the safety of any person or impede an investigation.”
  • The NYPD will keep all recordings for at least 18 months.
  • Recordings related to a criminal case will be turned over to the prosecuting attorney’s office, who must provide the video to the defendant’s attorney along with other evidence as required by criminal discovery laws.
  • Recordings may also be requested by the public through the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Police officers may always view footage of an incident before making any official statement.

A February 2019 ruling by a New York state appeals court has ensured that the public will have access to police body cam recordings. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association challenged the release of body cam video to the public, arguing that it would violate a New York State privacy law, NYCL CVR section 50-a, that prevents the public release of any police officer’s personnel records except by court order. The court ruled that these recordings do not constitute a personnel record and that they must be released in order to achieve the “transparency, accountability, and public trust-building” objectives of the body-worn camera program.

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NYC criminal defense lawyer prosecutor misconductEveryone has heard about the repercussions of police misconduct, but much less has been done about the problem of misconduct by prosecuting attorneys. When New York police commit a constitutional rights violation, such as unlawful arrest or excessive use of force, the victim can win a large financial settlement in civil court, and the offending police officers can face criminal prosecution for civil rights violations as well as job termination. But what happens when a New York assistant district attorney (ADA) violates someone’s civil rights? The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors, including both the individual and their employer, cannot be sued for civil rights violations except in very rare instances. 

Prosecutors Who Commit Illegal Acts Go Largely Unpunished

The New York Times recently described a particularly egregious case of prosecutorial misconduct in which a Suffolk County ADA altered police records to remove exculpatory information on a young man who was being prosecuted for first-degree murder. When this misconduct was discovered, the ADA was fired, and that murder case was dismissed along with five other homicide cases in which the ADA concealed evidence that favored the accused. Was that ADA or his office sued by the victims who were unjustly prosecuted and imprisoned? Was he indicted on criminal charges or at least barred from practicing law? No. He is now a criminal defense lawyer, and his website actually highlights his former employment as a homicide prosecutor.

New York Creates Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission

At present, the powers of New York prosecutors are “virtually unchecked,” according to a New York City Council Member. “The [district attorney] alone decides who to charge and for what … which information to share with the grand jury and which to withhold … who sits [in jail] awaiting trial… and when, if ever, the defense gets access to information critical to the case.”

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