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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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Manhattan Sex Crimes Attorney

Although New York state law does not explicitly use the term “statutory rape,” it does define several categories of sex crimes involving underage victims. In general, individuals younger than age 17 are considered to be legally incapable of consenting to sex with adults who are four to five years older. Depending on the age of the victim, an adult engaging in sexual intercourse with a minor may be charged with rape in the first, second, or third degree. The younger the victim, the more severe the crime and punishment.

New York Statutory Rape Involving Victim Under Age 17

The crime of rape in the third degree occurs when an adult age 21 or older engages in sexual intercourse with a juvenile under the age of 17. For example, a 21-year-old who engages in sex with a 16-year-old could be charged with rape even if the 16-year-old claimed the sex was consensual.

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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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Queens criminal defense attorney bail reform“Innocent until proven guilty” can feel like a sham when thousands of accused-but-unconvicted defendants languish in New York jails for lack of a few hundred dollars to make bail. Shockingly, 72% of people arrested in New York City end up at Rikers Island for at least a day because they cannot raise the necessary cash bail fast enough, even for a misdemeanor crime such as drug possession or assault

The state of New York appears ready to address this injustice in 2019. A task force created by the New York State Unified Court System spent over a year discussing the issue and published its final report in February 2019. This report largely agrees with the latest drafts of bail reform legislation coming out of Albany. The likely changes include:

  • More offenses should be designated for police issuance of an appearance ticket rather than an arrest.
  • People accused of misdemeanor and some non-violent felony crimes should be released without cash bail, either on their own recognizance or with the least restrictive non-monetary conditions necessary to ensure their appearance in court. 
  • However, courts should be able to deny release if the defendant currently poses a credible threat to the physical safety of an identifiable person or group.
  • State law should specify a limited list of crimes for which a defendant may be held in pre-trial custody, if the prosecutor makes a case for it.
  • Judges’ use of electronic monitoring in place of jail detention should be subject to specific guidelines set out in state law.

New York City has already taken action over the past four years to reduce its jail population rather than wait for state-level reform. NYC now offers a program known as “supervised release,” a partnership with nonprofit groups that will help evaluate defendants and allow social workers to maintain contact with assigned defendants. Of the first 10,000 people who qualified for supervised release, 87% attended all of their court dates.

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Brooklyn assault charge defense attorneyIf you have been arrested on assault charges in New York City, you could be facing either a misdemeanor conviction for Third Degree Assault or a felony conviction for First or Second Degree Assault (NYPL 120.00 to 120.10). With the help of a good defense lawyer and some creative thinking, however, you may be able to beat these charges.

Here are five possible defense strategies to discuss with your criminal defense attorney:

  1. Lack of physical injury. If you can show that the victim exaggerated the effect of the assault and suffered no injury all, you may be able to have the charges dismissed. 
  2. Lack of serious physical injury. If you can show that the victim suffered only the most minor of injuries, your attorney may be able to get a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor. A felony charge requires serious physical injury or, in the alternative, some kind of special circumstance, such as the use of a dangerous weapon. “Serious physical injury” means protracted impairment of health or of any bodily organ, or serious protracted disfigurement, or an injury that creates a substantial risk of death (NY Penal Law 10.00). 
  3. Lack of intent. For a felony assault charge to stick, you must have had intent to cause injury to the victim. If you can show that you did not have that intent, and this can be demonstrated through the corroboration of witnesses, you may be able to avoid a conviction. For misdemeanor assault, you must have caused injury by intent, recklessness, or criminal negligence. Again, if you can convincingly describe the encounter as accidental or unintentional, you may be able to avoid being convicted.
  4. Inaccurate identification. When a fight breaks out in a crowd, and multiple people are throwing punches, a victim may incorrectly identify the person who actually hit them. Your attorney may be able to find witnesses or video recordings that prove that someone else was the person who actually injured the victim.
  5. Lying victim. Completely false accusations are not unheard of. For example, one spouse might try to get the upper hand in a bitter divorce dispute by claiming that they or their children were assaulted by the other spouse. In one case which our attorneys successfully defended, the person making accusations of assault said he was attacked by the defendant, but the defendant claimed self-defense. Security video recordings proved that the man claiming to be the victim had actually been lying in wait to ambush the defendant. 

As you can see, there are a variety of ways to construct a defense when you have been charged with assault. A savvy criminal defense attorney will carefully examine the evidence in your case and recommend the best approach for your unique circumstances.

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Manhattan criminal defense attorney assaultIn response to numerous assaults committed with ceramic blades by inmates at Rikers Island, local correctional facilities in the state of New York may again use low-dose ionizing radiation body scanners to search inmates for weapons, effective January 30, 2019.

These body scanners, which use the same type of radiation as medical X-ray machines but at lower doses, are able to detect small weapons such as ceramic blades that do not set off metal detectors. Prior to 2015, some New York corrections facilities used X-ray scanners to screen inmates for weapons. The practice was halted in 2015 due to the health risk posed by exposure to radiation.  

After weighing the risk of low-dose radiation exposure against the risk posed by undetected weapons in corrections facilities, New York state legislators decided in favor of allowing X-ray screening of inmates. They were swayed by reports of assaults in which inmates wielding ceramic blades caused severe slashing injuries to other inmates or corrections officers. In New York City alone, over 100 such assaults were reported in 2017, including 11 incidents in which a corrections officer was stabbed, slashed, or cut. 

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Manhattan prescription drug charges lawyerNew Yorkers with leftover prescription drugs will now have safer options for discarding them, thanks to the state’s new Drug Take Back Act that went into effect on January 6, 2019. Lawmakers hope that one effect of this law will be to curtail drug possession crimes involving unlawful possession of prescription narcotics (e.g., oxycodone and fentanyl) or other prescription drugs that are commonly resold and misused (e.g., ADHD drugs like Ritalin and Adderall).

The Problems Created by Leftover Prescription Drugs

When someone is prescribed a powerful medication such as an opioid pain reliever, they are often left with extra pills that they did not need or preferred not to take. In some cases, these pills are flushed down the toilet by someone who does not realize the harm these drugs can do to freshwater supplies and aquatic life. In other cases, these pills find their way into new, unauthorized hands and contribute to the epidemic of opioid addiction and death by overdose that has plagued this nation over the past few years. 

Various efforts were made to deal with this problem on a piecemeal and voluntary basis, such as drug drop-off points at police stations, local “drug take back” days, and collection stations at some hospitals and pharmacies. However, many believe that much more could be and needed to be done. The New York state legislature addressed this problem with the passage of the Drug Take Back Act during its 2017-2018 session, which added Article 2-B sections 290-294 and amended section 3343-b of the Public Health Law.

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Brooklyn drug court attorneyDrug possession and use crimes remain a major problem for New York City. Some parks in the Bronx are so heavily strewn with used hypodermic needles that the grounds are unsafe for visitors. Heroin addicts can be seen shooting up inside Manhattan subway stations. Overdose deaths due to opioids such as heroin and fentanyl have skyrocketed to an estimated 1,500 per year in New York City.

As prison sentences have failed to stem illegal drug possession, alternative programs such as drug treatment courts have been created. Most of these programs have now been operating in NYC for 10 to 15 years.

How the NYC Drug Treatment Court Program Works

If you have been arrested for a non-violent crime in New York City and you have a substance use disorder (alcoholism or drug addiction), the first thing you should do is seek the advice of an experienced drug court lawyer. Your lawyer can explain your legal options and advise you as to whether a drug court program might be a good option for you.

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Bronx marijuana possession defense attorneyNew York City arrests for drug crimes involving cannabis will soon be a thing of the past. New York came close to legalizing marijuana use by all adults in 2018 and is expected to complete the process in 2019.

One of the first moves in favor of broadly legalizing adult marijuana use was taken by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance on May 15, 2018. He announced that as of August 1, 2018, his office would no longer prosecute criminal cases where the only charge is minor marijuana possession or public smoking.

In June, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an official statement that New York police would stop arresting and fingerprinting people for the sole offense of smoking marijuana in public. While public marijuana use is a class B misdemeanor crime under New York state law, as of September 1, 2018, offenders would receive a criminal court summons for unlawful possession of marijuana (25g or less). The summons requires a court appearance, but because the charge is only a violation, the maximum penalty is a fine of $100 for a first offense and $200 for a second offense. In addition, a violation does not leave the offender with a criminal drug conviction on their record.

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NYC criminal defense lawyer police drone surveillanceAt least 910 law enforcement and fire/emergency agencies across the U.S. now use drones, a figure that more than doubled from 2016 to 2018. Among them is the New York Police Department, which announced the formation of a new group specifically to handle drones on December 4, 2018.

The NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU) will oversee the new team of 29 specially-trained officers and 14 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). TARU’s primary job is to provide audiovisual surveillance technology and services to the entire NYPD, and their efforts will likely play a large role in many criminal defense cases.

Uses of Drones for Law Enforcement in New York City

The NYPD plans to use their drones for purposes such as:

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NYC domestic violence charges defense attorneyIf you have been charged with a crime of domestic violence, one of your biggest concerns might be, "Will I end up in prison?" If you are incarcerated, you are not earning an income. You cannot care for your children and other family members. You could even lose your home and car if you cannot keep up the payments.

Fortunately, the state of New York has recognized that it has a vested interest in breaking the cycle of domestic violence. It is not enough to help victims of abuse after the fact. Alleged batterers must also be addressed. While everyone must be held accountable for their own actions, when people accused of domestic violence are incarcerated, they are not able to earn their own living, pay taxes, and meet other financial obligations, such as paying child support.

The Option of Interim Probation Supervision in NYC

If you have been charged with a domestic violence crime such as harassment, menacing, stalking, or assault of an intimate partner or family member, incarceration is one of the possible sentences. However, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate for you to receive interim probation supervision.

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