Articles Posted in Criminal Procedure

Although I couldn’t tell you the exact number, there are millions of people who come to New York City – its boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn (technically Kings County) – on any given day. Whether they are commuters, tourists or here solely for a brief business stay, some of these people find themselves in hot water, aka, under arrest by the NYPD. If the crime charged is, for example, PL 155.25 or PL 165.40 for a shoplifting arrest at Macys or Century 21, PL 220.03 for getting busted doing a “bump” of cocaine outside a bar, PL 120.00 for a fist fight with some random stranger, or something of the felony variety which is quite more serious, they will have a date with a judge in criminal court. By Desk Appearance Ticket (D.A.T. or Appearance Ticket) or as a result of an all out arrest cooling their heals in the “Tombs”, if a criminal case is not resolved immediately a defendant will be required to return to court. Live in California, Texas, England, Australia or China? No, you don’t get a pass. Without prior agreement, failure to return will result in the issuance of a Bench Warrant.

So, what can you do? If you are asking yourself “Do I have to come back to court or can it be resolved in my absence,” then this blog may good place to start to understand the legal issues and process so that you can make an informed decision  with your criminal defense attorney when assessing your options. Continue reading

Facial Sufficiency is a vital consideration in the field of Criminal Law (one of many, of course). If a misdemeanor information (some people call it a complaint) is facially insufficient then the misdemeanor information is considered jurisdictionally defective and should be dismissed. In order for a misdemeanor information to be facially sufficient the misdemeanor information must, when viewed in a light most favorable to the People (the District Attorney or prosecution), contain non-hearsay factual allegations providing reasonable cause to believe that the defendant committed the offense(s) charged; and which establish, if true, every element of the offense(s) charged. CPL §§100.15[3]; 100.40[1][b] and [c].

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In criminal trials in the state of New York, the People (a.k.a. the prosecution) bear the burden of proving that the defendant has committed the charged offense beyond any reasonable doubt. Obviously, the role of the criminal lawyer in New York is to controvert, challenge and poke holes in People’s case. Many times in criminal trials the strongest evidence of guilt in the prosecution’s arsenal is the direct testimony of a witness. Therefore the District Attorney’s Offices, whether it be one of the five borough/counties– Manhattan, Brooklyn/Kings, the Bronx, Staten Island/Richmond, or Queens– or surrounding counties– Westchester or Rockland — must be empowered to compel these “material witnesses” to testify. A subpoena is that legal tool, which empowers the State of New York to compel testimony by a witness. Of course, even if you’ve been subpoenaed to testify in a New York criminal trial, you don’t necessarily have to testify.

Most of us don’t need a NY criminal defense attorney to tell us what the Fifth Amendment is, but many times people do confuse the scope of the Amendment. The Fifth Amendment only protects individuals from self-incrimination. That is, if your boyfriend was charged with burglary and you are subpoenaed to testify as to his whereabouts on the night in question, but you had nothing to do with the burglary and your truthful testimony will in no way incriminate (admit guilt of a crime) you, then you can potentially be compelled to testify.

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Often times, prosecutors in the New York City area (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Westchester Counties) offer first time shoplifters as well as those accused of other thefts, weapon crimes and personal drug possession, a violation of Disorderly Conduct (New York Penal Law 240.20). Depending on the facts and circumstances, a “Dis Con” could be a tremendous disposition. However, such a violation does have its draw backs. One of the most common is that a Disorderly Conduct may seal, but may show up on a background check. The other issue with a Disorderly Conduct is that while you will not have to ever state you were convicted of a crime, you technically have been arrested. Therefore, should an employer or an employment application ask whether you have ever been arrested, you will have to answer in the affirmative.

As I have written time and time again (and fought for my clients in each and every case of this nature), it is often worth one’s time to reject a Disorderly Conduct and fight for an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal or ACD. In these cases, not only is there no conviction of any kind, but the case is both dismissed and sealed in six to twelve months depending the nature of the underlying offense. Another benefit that is often not addressed is equally important.

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It is common throughout New York City and the region for judges to grant prosecutors’ requests for orders of protection whereby no contact between a complainant and defendant is permitted. These “full” orders of protection are often requested in other counties, such as in Brooklyn and Westchester, where the parties don’t even know each other and are complete strangers. What is concerning for the accused, however, is where a “full” order of protection is issued that ultimately requires one party to vacate their own home. Unquestionably, these orders of protection are often necessary to protect one individual from another. However, “full” orders of protection are also implemented where there is merely an accusation without full investigation. Prosecutors, taking the side of caution, may ask for these orders of protection, but amend them at a later date. Unfortunately, what happens to the accused if they must leave their home, their property and their possessions behind while they wait for a prosecutor or detective to conduct their investigation? What is this person to do for the weeks or months that he or she may not have access to his or her property?

Fortunately, there is a potential remedy or at least a means to challenge the order of protection in New York. If your “personal or property rights will be directly and specifically affected,” by a “full” order of protection, your attorney can request a “Forman Hearing.” Having said that, merely requesting one does not mean such a hearing will be granted and you will be successful. It is the accused’s burden to establish this direct and specific affect. Once having done so, the court must ascertain and weigh this affect against the danger(s) to the complainant. See People v. Foreman, 145. Misc. 2d 115 (NY Cty. Crim. Ct. 1989).

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As I type, it is likely that Plaxico Burress is sitting in a Manhattan Grand Jury testifying about the events that ultimately resulted in his arrest for possessing a loaded firearm in New York and being charged with Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree. As a former Manhattan prosecutor who served for seven years under Robert Morgenthau and who has cross-examined many defendants in the Grand Jury and represented clients in the same, I have unique insight that many New York criminal defense attorneys do not. The following entry will address some of what happens in this “secret proceeding.”

What is the Grand Jury

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Whether you are under investigation for a white collar crime or have already been arrested for a weapon crime, it is imperative to retain an experienced New York criminal defense attorney before you talk with law enforcement. It may be that without an admission or statement on your part to the police or FBI, law enforcement has no case against you…that is right…nothing. Whatever the circumstances, whether you voluntarily go to a precinct to talk to the police to “clear the air” or you are already under arrest, you may be waiving your rights and jeopardizing your case. Even more importantly, your fatal mistake may cost you your freedom. Unfortunately for one particular defendant in Nassau County, he learned this lesson the hard way.

In a decision rendered on May 8, 2009, a Nassau County District Court Judge ruled in People v. Alfredo Pena, 2008NA011705, that a defendant’s statements were not the result of a “custodial interrogation” and therefore admissible and not obtained in violation of his rights. This “custodial interrogation” is the key element or principle in New York’s cases involving Miranda and admissions. In the Pena case, the police were investigating the defendant for the crime of Harassment through phone calls. The defendant went to the station voluntarily, waited for about 45 minutes until the detective was available and ultimately made admissions of his involvement. During this entire period of time the defendant was never handcuffed or forced to remain in the precinct. Moreover, no threats or promises were made and the defendant was not arrested. Shortly thereafter, the defendant was read his Miranda warnings, which he voluntarily waived, and he spoke further with the police. Ultimately, as you have probably guessed by now, the police arrested the defendant and the prosecutors indicated that they were going to use all the admissions against the defendant at trial. After motions were made by the defendant’s counsel, a Huntley Hearing (a hearing where a judge determines the admissibility of a defendant’s statement) was ordered and conducted.

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An aggressive and skilled criminal defense lawyer can assist his client in navigating the criminal justice system in New York. Whether you are being prosecuted in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, White Plains or Yonkers, one possible outcome of your criminal case that you may navigate to, and a very good one under the right circumstances, is an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal or ACD. See CPL 170.55.

If, for example, you are charged with a misdemeanor such as Assault, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance (drug possession), Petit larceny, or Menacing, an ACD, other than an outright dismissal, is the best possible outcome. When accepting an ACD you are not admitting to any crime, pleading guilty or stating you were involved in any wrongdoing. In practical terms, the case is being dropped and if you stay out of trouble and abide by certain conditions, the case will be dismissed and sealed within six months (or one year if it is a “family” criminal matter). If, however, you do not abide by certain conditions as set forth at the time of the ACD, the prosecution may seek to re-open your case and proceed on the original charges during the six months or one year the case is not active and prior to its dismissal. Once it is dismissed the prosecution cannot reopen the matter as it will be sealed.

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As an Assistant District Attorney who served in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for seven years and as a New York criminal defense attorney, I have prosecuted, investigated and defended a wide spectrum of crimes ranging from Identity Theft, Forgery and Grand Larceny to Possession of a Weapon, Rape and Kidnapping. Through my years of experience I have heard the same question asked by witnesses of crimes over and over again. That is, “I received a subpoena for the Grand Jury. Do I have to go to the prosecutor’s or District Attorney’s Office?” The answer to this question is always and absolutely in the negative. In fact, ther is “no power in the District Attorney under our existing law to employ a subpoena to [require a] witness to attend his office or any other place where a Grand Jury is not sitting or where a court is not convened in action or proceeding.” People v. Boulet.

Prosecutors are entitled to issue subpoenas on behalf of the Grand Jury that require your personal appearance in front of that body. On the face of the subpoena or the cover letter, the prosecutor will often indicate that he or she would like you to come to the office prior to going to the Grand Jury. Prosecutors are not being dishonest or trying to trick you to come down to their office first in lieu of going to the Grand Jury. There is no reason for them to behave in this manner. In fact, it may save both parties the time and energy of going into the Grand Jury or it may turn out that after a few questions from the prosecutor it will be determined that you are not needed and you can go back home or back to work. At bottom, there are many valid reasons why a prosecutor would request that you come to the office first.

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You have a trial in Manhattan Supreme Court or Brooklyn Criminal Court and you fail to return on the scheduled date. In the alternative, you pleaded guilty in Bronx Criminal Court after bargaining with the prosecutor and the judge scheduled a date for sentencing, but you didn’t return. The question you now have is can the judge proceed with the trial against me or can he sentence me or increase my sentence without me being there?

Judges, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys often throw around a term that is applicable to this question. That is, did you receive your Parker Warnings? The Court of Appeals, in People v. Parker and the line of cases that followed, has held that a defendant must be present at the time of trial and sentence. This right can be waived, but the defendant must be informed at the time he pleaded guilty or the case was adjourned for trial that the case would proceed without his presence. Moreover, in the event of a sentencing, the defendant must also be advised that he may receive a harsher sentence if he does not return and he will not be permitted to withdraw his plea.

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