Sometimes people make bad mistakes. Really bad mistakes. When youth is mixed with alcohol and testosterone is running through one’s veins, there is a often a toxic mix that can end in disaster. Unfortunately, a recent client who retained the New York criminal lawyers at Crotty Saland PC learned this the hard way after the NYPD arrested our client in Manhattan charging our client with Second Degree Assault, New York Penal Law 120.05, and other crimes. Our client, a recent college graduate, got into a confrontation with anther person at a NYC bar and allegedly attempted to smash a glass mug on the person’s head or face, but instead the glass was alleged to have bounced and shattered on the face of a nearby person. As a result, the unintended victim whom our client was alleged to have struck suffered significant injuries to his jaw structure and bone as well as numerous stitches to close the wound from the broken glass. Hauled off to court and arraigned before a judge on two separate counts of Second Degree Assault under the theory that a dangerous instruments was used to cause a physical injury and that it was our client’s actual intent to cause a serious physical injury, our client faced a potential indelible felony conviction and as much as seven years in a New York State prison. As unfortunate as those circumstances may have objectively been, the New York criminal defense attorneys and former prosecutors at Crotty Saland PC were able to secure not merely a downward departure from a felony to a misdemeanor, but our client was ultimately sentenced to a Disorderly Conduct, New York Penal Law 240.20. In the end, our client did not sustain a criminal record.
Second Degree Aggravated Harassment, New York Penal Law 240.30, is a fairly common misdemeanor crime charged by the NYPD and prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys throughout the City of New York. A common Domestic Violence crime, but not always a “DV” offense, an arrestee can be prosecuted by means of a trip to Central Booking for up to 24 hours or a Desk Appearance Ticket whereby the accused merely spends a few ours in custody at the precinct of arrest. Simply, none of these scenarios is appealing.
Not a full analysis of all legal challenges and issues associated with NY PL 240.30, the question addressed by this blog entry briefly touches on what constitutes free speech and whether one communication can be grounds for committing Second Degree Aggravated Harassment if it is not a “true threat” of physical harm.
“Violence” and “violent” are both ugly words. In the New York Penal Law and New York Criminal Procedure Law, offenses that can cause catastrophic injuries, traumatic physical and emotional wounds and even death are designated as violent crimes. While each one of us may have a subjective view of what violent means in the context our respective lives, New York Criminal Procedure Law 70.02 specifically defines and differentiates New York violent crimes from all other offenses. The relevancy as to what is a violent crime and what is an “ordinary” offense is critical to any criminal case as well as to how a criminal defense attorney manages his representation of a client. As a preliminary matter, sentencing for violent crimes differ from other offenses and for those who want to pursue the sealing of their criminal record for up to two convictions in accordance with New York Criminal Procedure Law 160.59, any violent offense precludes such a remedy.
There is no better feeling than vindicating or exonerating a client who comes to you passionately asserting that the crime he or she is accused of is a crime that he or she did not commit. Yes, a complainant can make an allegation, but as we all know assertions made by one party are not always true. In most cases, because the police were not at the scene of an incident when you committed an alleged crime, the police officer or detective has to make a decision as to whether or not there is probable cause to make an arrest. Sometimes right in their determination and sometimes wrong, unfortunately for those who fall into the latter category of arrests, a pending criminal case can, and often does, disrupt your life as the matter winds through the New York City or other courts from arraignment to resolution. For a recent client defended by the New York criminal lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at Crotty Saland PC, what started off as a horrific evening in jail in Manhattan’s infamous “Tombs” waiting to see a judge, ended in the best possible manner. The District Attorney rightfully dismissed the crimes of Third Degree Assault, New York Penal Law 120.00, Criminal Obstruction of Breathing Circulation, New York Penal Law 121.11, Third Degree Menacing, New York Penal Law 120.15, and other offenses.
While I certainly do not condone violence, if you punch someone two or three times in the face with a clenched fist, bloody up their mouth and cause them to go to the hospital for a stitch or two, an allegation of Third Degree Assault would likely survive a criminal defense attorney’s motion to dismiss the charge of New York Penal Law 120.00(1). No, it doesn’t mean you will not or cannot have defense at trial (self defense for example), but from a legal perspective your conduct satisfies the elements of the crime almost on its face. Again, you may still try, but seeking a dismissal for legal sufficiency will likely be quite difficult. Despite this, not all crimes or criminal conduct is so clear. When a court has to examine words used, the intent of those words and the reasonable implications of your speech, the court has much more to juggle than determining your intent when you balled up your fist. This more difficult type of review happens with a greater degree of regularity in cases involving Second Degree Aggravated Harassment pursuant to New York Penal Law 240.30. A class “A” misdemeanor, Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree is a crime often seen, but is not exclusive to, New York Domestic Violence cases. Where an arrest or allegation does not involve a familial or intimate relationship, the police will consider issuing the accused a Desk Appearance Ticket. Regardless of how a PL 240.30 case is prosecuted, words, and how they are reflected in a criminal court complaint, matter. This blog entry will address how words and statements that may seem threatening on their face may not in fact violate certain sections of the New York criminal law.
New York Penal Law 120.00 is New York’s misdemeanor Assault crime. As a result, any time a complainant or alleged victim makes an claim that another person struck, hit, punched, etc., him or her, prosecutors will routinely add Third Degree Assault to the list of crimes on a criminal court complaint. Similarly, Second Degree Harassment, New York Penal Law 240.26, is a violation that is not a legal “lesser offense,” but an offense nonetheless that Assistant District Attorneys will throw at the accused. Because PL 120.00, a misdemeanor carrying a sentence of up to one year in jail, is a gravely concerning charge whether by Desk Appearance Ticket or full on arrest and processing, it is imperative to do your best to challenge your arrest at every stage of the criminal process well before you on trial. One of the means to do so at the earliest stage is for your criminal defense attorney to file a motion arguing that the complaint against you is legally of facially insufficient to support the elements and crime of Assault in the Third Degree. On avenue your criminal lawyer may pursue is arguing that on the face of the complaint the prosecution failed to establish that as a result of your alleged actions, even if true, you caused the “victim” to suffer a physical injury and substantial pain.
It is well settled, and worth getting out of the way right from the start, that operability or a working weapon is generally an essential part of a Criminal Possession of a Weapon charge and crime pursuant to New York Penal Law Article 265. In substance, this means that if a person is accused of possessing a firearm illegally, one of the central elements it that the firearm – gun, pistol, revolver – actually be capable of letting off a shot. This is most easily confirmed through a ballistics test by the police department. If the firearm is incapable of shooting and the ballistics test confirms this failure, then the firearm will not qualify as a firearm for the purpose of certain sections of Criminal Possession of a Weapon. Should it not be operable, your criminal defense attorney would move for a dismissal of the Grand Jury indictment or the criminal court complaint.
While the above may seem great to an accused person, his or her criminal defense lawyer may have some bad news . Yes, an indictment or criminal court complaint may not be legally sufficient, for example, charging New York Penal Law 265.01, New York Penal Law 265.02 or New York Penal Law 265.03, but unless you are solely charged with possessing a weapon or dangerous instrument, does inoperability mean that all other crimes that you face that are associated with that weapon fail as well? The short answer is a resounding “no.”
A gun is not always a gun in the eyes of the law. A firearm is not always a firearm as it is defined by New York criminal court judges. An arrest for a can of mace, you guessed it, is not always a can of mace for the purpose of New York Penal Law 265.01. Confusing, right? Maybe not. A critical factor or element to weapon crimes in New York is whether or not that particular weapon is operable. It is not merely enough to possess a firearm, a “dangerous knife” or other “dangerous or deadly instrument” with the intent to use it against another person if operation is required. Certainly, these are elements to PL 265.01(2), but as your criminal lawyer should be able to explain to you, if the object in question is not operable, then you very well could, and likely should, have grounds to seek a dismissal of the Criminal Possession of a Weapon charge for which you were arrested.
A few years ago the New York State Legislature tightened up the Second Degree Aggravated Harassment crime found in the New York Penal Law. Whether by Desk Appearance Ticket in Manhattan or by Domestic Violence Arrest in Brooklyn, the law was no longer vague. More specifically, addressing solely subsection (1)(b) or New York Penal Law 240.30, it is a class “A” misdemeanor if you have an intent to harass another person and you cause a communication to be initiated by telephone, email, or any electronic means. This communication must be a threat to cause physical injury or unlawful harm to the person or property of that person or a member of his or her family or household. Moreover, when making your communication you should reasonably know that it will cause a reasonable fear of such an injury or harm.
Well, if that isn’t wordy enough, let’s try to get right to the point of this blog. Simply, what type of speech or statements violate PL 240.30(1)(b) and when does your language necessitate the assistance of a criminal defense attorney to challenge the legal sufficiency of a complaint you face in a New York criminal court?
New York Penal Law 265.01(1), Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon, delineates the type of weapons that are per se, aka, automatically, weapons in New York based on the law no matter how you intended on using them. If you knowingly possess the weapon, then you are guilty. No, you are not merely walking into a courtroom with your criminal lawyer and pleading guilty to a misdemeanor crime that is accompanied by a sentence of up to one year in jail, but you are guilty barring certain defenses, such as challenging the probable cause for your arrest and how you were searched. This is because there is a strict liability standard at trial assuming the prosecution proves their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Looking at it slightly differently, you always have the ability to challenge an arrest on legal, factual, evidentiary, and mitigation grounds, but without any defense, a jury or judge can find you guilty if the People meet their burden.
Putting aside this strict liability standard and whether or not the NYPD and District Attorney should be prosecuting honest, hard working, regular people who legally purchase one of these gravity knifes at Home Depot, Amazon, a local sporting goods store or any other retailer having no reason to believe that in New York it is a crime to possess such a “weapon,” other types of blades and objects can be considered dangerous instruments and weapons depending on the matter they are possessed or used. The statutory authority to prosecute these crimes is also Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon, but is found in New York Penal Law 265.01(2). This entry will address a recent court decision examining the legal sufficiency of a PL 265.01(2) arrest and prosecution in connection to the possession of a box cutter.