When Remaining Silent May be Your Best Criminal Defense: Making Graffiti & the New York Police Department’s Vandal Squad

Every so often there is a story that is worth repeating when it comes to criminal defense in New York. As I have noted countless times in my blog entries and directly to clients, speaking to a detective or police officer with the NYPD or an Assistant District Attorney without a criminal defense attorney is usually a terrible mistake. Remember, you always have a right to request a lawyer. Whatever you say, if it can be construed as damaging in any way, will be used against you. Again, not only do I know this from my experience representing clients throughout New York City, Westchester County and other jurisdictions, but many cases that I prosecuted as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan were enhanced because targets of investigations or those arrested either thought they were smart enough to talk themselves out of a situation, minimized their actions through half-truths or just made admission. If you take home anything from this New York criminal law blog entry, remember to think before you speak.

The anecdote worth sharing recently occurred in a Manhattan precinct where our client was arrested in NYC for his alleged involvement in making graffiti. The crimes associated with this offense and common arrest charges for graffiti include the obvious, Making Graffiti (New York Penal Law 145.60), Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree (New York Penal Law 145.00) and Possession of Graffiti Instruments (New York Penal Law 145.65). Alternatively, if the graffiti arrest involves a felony a higher degree of Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree may be charged.

Regardless of the crimes our client faced, our client was smart enough not to initially speak with the police when questioned about the alleged graffiti. A family member reached out and retained the New York graffiti defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC. However, our client’s arresting officers contacted the NYPD Vandal Squad, a unit in the police department that tracks down and arrests those who make graffiti throughout New York City. The Vandal Squad went to the precinct to confront our client about a particular “tag.” Fortunately, one of our criminal lawyers was present at the precinct when this squad appeared. Attempting to speak to our client, Crotty Saland PC intervened and prevented the Vandal Squad from doing so. At that point, an officer with the Vandal Squad gave the usual speech. That is, if our client admitted to one tag, then the police would not arrest him for all of our client’s tags that they found anywhere else in the City. In other words, the police would do my client a “favor” not to make an arrest on each and every tag the attributed to our client if our client admitted to them (note the sarcasm).

In short, we denied the detective’s request to speak with him. Without an admission, the Vandal Squad had no ability to tie our client to a particular tag. Assuming that the tag was our client’s, admitting to the tag would only serve the purposes of law enforcement. Our client exercised the right not to speak and in doing so cut the criminal case off at the knees. Instead of facing multiple misdemeanors or potential felonies, we secured an ACD for our client whereby our client’s case is to be dismissed and sealed after six months.

The above case is not the first time we have “saved” a client from the Vandal Squad. In fact, detectives with the Vandal Squad once showed up at our office after they contacted the client and were advised that our client was in our law office. Armed with pictures, the police confronted our client with alleged graffiti. I advised the detectives in substance that our client had no comment. In response, the detectives became inflamed and made threats of multiple arrests for misdemeanor and felony graffiti related crimes. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from a prosecutor who wanted to speak with my client. Again, this was denied. Ultimately, after a couple of additional inquiries, prosecutors did not charge our client with any crime and our client was never arrested.

There are no tricks here. I am not revealing any secrets of “how to beat a criminal case.” Simply, while each case is different, in the above cases the detectives needed admissions to have viable arrests. To be clear, I am not advising anyone reading this blog how they should or should not act. Crotty Saland is not your counsel. You have to make your own decision or discuss these matters with your own criminal lawyer. Remember, however, any statement that you make can be used against you. Your admission may be the piece of evidence needed by prosecutors to build a case. Never forget that you have right to counsel and can ask to speak to your criminal attorney at any point in the process. Don’t be a prosecutor’s aid in building a criminal case against.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense firm that has successfully represented numerous clients accused of Making Graffiti, Possession of Graffiti Instruments and Criminal Mischief in the New York City area. The two founding New York graffiti defense lawyers at Crotty Saland PC previously worked as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

To learn more about the above crimes, either follow the links listed there that lead to CrottySaland.Com or search the NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com to find analysis of these offenses and case law that construes them.

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