Sometimes with good cause and other times without, the NYPD charges individuals with violating New York Penal Law 195.05, Obstructing Governmental Administration. In fact, during my years as a Manhattan prosecutor and currently as a New York criminal defense lawyer, I have seen and currently see both police and Assistant District Attorney’s charge PL 195.05 where the law is interpreted either way too broadly or it is confused with other offenses such as Resisting Arrest. An “A” misdemeanor punishable by as much as one year in a local county jail such as Rikers Island, “OGA” is not a crime that should be taken lightly. Not only is incarceration an ugly thing, but the hint or accusation of criminal conduct can have significant collateral consequences even if an accused never steps on foot in jail. Due to the above reasons, this blog entry will address the crime of Obstructing Governmental Administration and a recent NYC court decision from the Queens Criminal Court review the offense.
Second Degree Aggravated Harassment, New York Penal Law 240.30, is one of the most widely charge crimes that often teeters between a violent and non violent offense. Not only are the alleged threats made in an NY PL 240.30 investigation relevant down to the exact words used and the context of declaration, but this offense is just as likely to involve a Desk Appearance Ticket based arrest as it is a Domestic Violence crime or charge. Just as local courts and attorneys have grappled with Second Degree Aggravated Harassment crimes, so has New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. While the following is not an analysis of a Court of Appeals decision, this blog entry does address what constitutes a “true threat” and, pursuant to a different subsection of the crime, “no legitimate purpose” when establishing Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree at the pleading stage of New York Penal Law 240.30 arrest.
Not necessarily relevant to every criminal offense found in the New York Penal Law, many arrests and crimes stem from what the police see in public or plain view. Whether officers with the NYPD or other local police agency stop your car and see a knife inside the vehicle from their vantage point or you’re walking down the street with a marijuana in your hand, the location of your criminal possession of cocaine, marijuana, or a firearm is often relevant not merely to the legality of your stop, arrest and search, but the crime itself. The following case involving an arrest for Fifth Degree Marijuana Possession, NY PL 221.10, is an example of this element and how a criminal complaint against you must be drafted in order to survive (or not survive) a motion to dismiss by your criminal defense attorney.
Per se crimes are dangerous offenses in New York. These crimes, and the arrests that result, are based not on malicious or intentional violations of the law, but often on otherwise harmless and ignorant actions. One of the most common strict liability and per se crime in the New York Penal Law is that of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree, pursuant to NY PL 265.01. Although there are many different types of items or objects that are “automatic” weapons (by automatic we are not speaking of a firearm, but automatic in the sense that their mere possession is a crime regardless of how the object is being used), the most common involve possession of gravity knives. In its simplest terms, these knives open with the force of gravity when flicked from the wrist. It is fairly routine that tourists to New York City or even residents of Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens are arrested and either fully processed before a judge or given a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT) after a police officer observes a clip on the accused’s pocket or or sees the blade during a car stop. Sadly, most of these individuals legally purchased these knives online or at a chain store outside of New York City or New York State.
While gravity knife arrests according to New York Penal Law 265.01(1) rank the highest by volume, other per se weapons are the subject of the same prosecutions. Arguably, though less common, switchblade knives pose a more serious risk. The reason for this is obvious. Still a violation of PL 265.01(1), Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon, switchblade knives are not sold by Home Depot, a fishing store or other similar establishments. Gravity knives are. Right or wrong, many prosecutors, judges and police officers perceive switchblade knives are evidence of some potential criminal act. Because of the seriousness of the allegation and the potential long term implications of a criminal conviction beyond spending time in jail, it is critical to examine the many defenses that may be available for an arrestee. One such defense is to review the complaint against you to determine whether the allegations as set forth in the accusatory instrument (the paper charging you is called an information) is legally sufficient.
Whether you are arrested for allegedly possessing a drug such as heroin or cocaine, a weapon including a gravity knife or firearm, or some marijuana, the contraband the police claim you possessed may not have been on your person. That is, you are being charged with PL 220.03 (drug possession), PL 265.01 (weapon possession) or PL 221.10 (marijuana possession), but the police did not see or recover the contraband from your hand, pocket, body, etc. The law is clear in these circumstances. Assuming the allegations in the complaint against you are sufficient (the elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt if and when there is a trial), prosecutors can push forward in a case regardless if your possession was considered actual or constructive.
Although you will have a much further in depth consultation with your own New York criminal lawyer who will explain the different types of possession to you, the difference between actual possession and constructive possession is fairly obvious. One is on your person and the other in an area where you have dominion and control. In other situations, even though your possession was not physical, if the contraband is in plain view or in a car, a legal presumption of your knowledge and possession may be attributed to your case.
“Revenge Porn” has entered the vernacular of every day New Yorkers and it appears as if it is here to stay. With the proliferation of social media, Revenge Porn, and the pictures or videos that it consists of, reeks havoc on the people who are reflected or portrayed in the online imagery. While there very well may be civil avenues to hold perpetrators of Revenge Porn accountable for their postings and sharing, what, if any, criminal remedies exists? Is there a Revenge Porn statute or crime in the New York Penal Law? For better or worse, the answer is no, but does that mean those who post Revenge Porn are free from arrest or prosecution in New York City or New York State?
In People v. Barber, 2013NY059761, NYLJ 1202644738008, at *1 (Crim., NY, Decided February 18, 2014), the defendant allegedly posted nude photographs of the complainant, his former girlfriend, to his own Twitter account and shared the same with his ex-girlfriend’s employer and sister. This was done without the complainant’s consent. As a result of this conduct, the New York County (Manhattan) District Attorney’s Office charged the defendant with Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree, New York Penal Law 240.30(1)(a), Dissemination of an Unlawful Surveillance Image in the Second Degree, New York Penal Law 250.55 and Public Display of Offensive Sexual Material, New York Penal Law 245.11(a). The defendant brought a motion to dismiss all charges. Although the Court found that defendant’s conduct was despicable, it nevertheless determined that the defendant did not violate any criminal statute for which he was charged.
Second Degree Aggravated Harassment in New York, pursuant to New York Penal Law 240.30, is a crime that is always immersed in a pool of many questions. Sometimes the conduct clearly establishes the foundation for an arrest while other times your criminal lawyer may be left scratching his or her head and asking, “Really?!?! You’re arresting my client and charging him with Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree for what?!?!” As I have said to my clients many times, because of the hypersensitivity around PL 240.30, police officers often make an arrest and leave it up to prosecutors to later sort out. Whether this is right or wrong (it certainly is wrong if the claim is fraudulent or exaggerated for the gain of the accuser), the unfortunately reality is that you will have to “earn” your offer or dismissal. Further, if the accusation is from a partner, lover, spouse or family member and is deemed “domestic,” you will be arrested for Second Degree Aggravated Harassment and you will not be able to avail yourself of a Desk Appearance Ticket.
There are multiple ways an accused can “earn” the proper disposition of a case. No prosecutor is merely going to give you and your criminal lawyer a handout. Obviously, one way you could fight an NY PL 240.30 arrest is to attempt to mitigate your conduct. Another route, and very likely the first attack, is to work alongside your criminal attorney to ascertain if the allegations, even if true, legally satisfy the elements of Second Degree Aggravated Harassment. When doing so, it is critical to examine the words used and the context of those words. The following two New York Criminal Court cases shed light on potential defenses and overall requirements of a New York PL 240.30 arrest that should be added to your defensive arsenal when words alone and their usage form the basis of a Second Degree Aggravated Harassment case.
Depending on the side of the law you stand (the defendant arrested for Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree or the complainant accusing you of violating New York Penal Law 240.30), the evolution and changes to this crime is either concerning or welcomed. As initial matter, some things have not changed. For example, not only are many of the subsections or theories the same as they were years ago, but if you are given a Desk Appearance Ticket for PL 240.30 or you are run through the entire underbelly of the New York Criminal Justice System for Second Degree Aggravated Harassment, the potential sentence and punishment is one year in the local slammer.
One “type” of Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree that has not changed is that which involves some form of physical contact (the statute also allows for other crimes that do not involve physical contact). “Physical contact,” however, may not always be what it seems. A slap or punch? Certainly, but what about less clear and decisive contact? In People v. Carlson, 705 N.Y.S.2d 830 (Crim. Ct., NY Cty., 1999), the defendant was charged with Aggravated Harassment in the 2nd Degree (Penal Law 240.30(3)), Harassment in the 2nd Degree (PL 240.26(1)), and Menacing in the 3rd Degree (PL 120.15) when he allegedly directed racial slurs toward a complainant, including calling him a “nigger,” and then spit in the complainant’s face. The Court, in this case, was tasked to tackle the following issue: “whether defendant’s alleged act of spitting in the informant’s face subjected the complainant to ‘physical contact’ within the meaning of [PL 240.30(3)]. Defendant moved to dismiss all three charges.
One of the fairly common calls we receive as New York criminal lawyers and New York criminal defense attorneys revolves around misdemeanor marijuana (“marihuana” in the New York Penal Law) arrests. The questions run the gamut. I received a New York City Desk Appearance TIcket for PL 221.10, have I been arrested? I received a Desk Appearance Ticket in NYC for marijuana possession, but the police recovered the marijuana from the ground (or it was in another person’s hand), how can they charge me with it? Why am I being charged with Criminal Possession of Marihuana when the police only got it from my pocket? It wasn’t like it was in my hand or I was smoking it! Why did the police search my car? They claim the marijuana was in the cup holder, but it was in the glove compartment they searched illegally! I could continue, but I believe you understand my point. Although only marijuana and not cocaine, molly, a firearm or something more serious, arrests for PL 221.10 – whether by Desk Appearance Ticket or full on processing – is traumatic.
Whatever your questions may be, the conversation as New York criminal lawyer and potential client routinely turns to what, if anything, a criminal defense attorney can do for the accused pot smoker (or possessor). First, I generally explain to my potential clients that despite their fears, barring some extraordinary circumstances, jail is not on the table (technically it is possible). Second, despite the fear other attorneys may try to instill in potential clients to convince these clients to hire them, the reality is that as a first time offender who did not resist arrest or obstruct the officers, things may not be so bleak (of course, “bleak” is a relative term).
The concerns of a person arrested for Seventh Degree Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, New York Penal Law 220.03, are many. If you are doctor, accountant, teacher, lawyer or financial services professional, what will happen to your license or certification? Beyond the initial scare and concerns, what are your potential sentences and punishment? For those who are not American citizens and here on visas – work or student – how will your arrest impact your future. Desk Appearance Ticket or full on arrest through central booking, dealing with the uncertainty and legitimate concerns of your arrest for cocaine, heroin, molly, ecstasy, or any controlled substance is something to address with your criminal lawyer.
Outside of these collateral, secondary and sentencing issues, another topic, and arguably the first one, you will discuss with your criminal lawyer or criminal defense attorney will be how you can challenge your arrest and DAT (also called an appearance ticket) for PL 220.03 in New York City. Sure, you will address why the police stopped you and how it came to be that you were searched, but another issue may be whether or not the controlled substance or narcotic in question is in fact a drug – heroin, cocaine, molly, etc. While the good news is that the prosecution has the burden to prove this element (and every) beyond a reasonable doubt, that bad news i that in the past few years the law has evolved (or devolved) to the point where an officer can make a determination without conclusive evidence from a field test or laboratory analysis. Hey, you may have purchased bogus drugs before you entered a concert, but he courts will find the complaint against you sufficient based on the assumption of a police officer. Sadly, the following two cases illustrate how the law favors the law enforcement and not the potentially wrongly accused.