All too often, criminal defendants face a rightful presumption of innocence coupled with a wrongful assumption of guilt. The greater the severity of the arrest, indictment or allegation, the stronger the negative inference. Although this should not be the case, as New York criminal lawyers this is the reality that we see many of our clients face. In fact, for one particular Saland Law PC client, this presumption-assumption issue followed him for a year after he was arrested and indicted for Kidnapping in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 135.20), Unlawful Imprisonment in the First Degree (New York Penal Law 135.10) and Stalking in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 120.55). Fortunately, however, with diligence and hard work, our client’s presumption of innocence prevailed and the assumption of guilt was put to rest after a jury acquitted our client after trial of Kidnapping, Stalking and Unlawful Imprisonment.
On its face, the allegations against our client were horrific. It was alleged that our client kidnapped his ex-wife at knife point after he used a ruse to deliver her furniture from their former apartment to her home that she shared with her mother and daughters (from a different relationship) on her birthday. The complainant claimed that she had no idea our client was going to move her property, did not have plans with him on her birthday, had no contact with him other than responding to his unwanted texts and calls, and only got inside his vehicle after threats of violence were made. Doubling down, the complainant asserted our client brandished a knife and threatened to kill the complainant as well as her daughters and mother. Driving up to Bear Mountain, the complainant contended she only escaped after convincing our client to go to a diner where she then reached out for help from waitstaff. Compounding the accusation, numerous waitstaff stated that they heard our client repeat the threat to kill the complainant’s mother. Complicating matters further, upon arrest zip ties, duct tape and a rope were recovered form our client’s car. No knife was ever recovered.
On its face, this case was ugly and ripe for the presumption-assumption dichotomy. Despite our clients continued and regular assertions of innocence, efforts to dispose of the case were fruitless. The offers and recommendations varied from as much as ten years in prison upon a plea to no jail on the eve of trial. It was not lost on our client that the potential exposure upon a Second Degree Kidnapping conviction was between five to twenty five years in a New York State prison. Despite the offer of a plea to a lesser crime and no jail, our client rejected the offer due to his innocence.
At trial, despite the complainant’s contention that the she had not spoken with the complainant beyond responding by text and phone calls to our client’s advances, had not seen her ex-husband since the divorce on May 22 and had no idea our client was coming to her home on the day of the alleged incident, the facts and evidence challenged that claim. Unbeknownst to the complainant, the subpoenaed phone records revealed hundreds of texts and phone calls back and forth (not typical for a person wanting another to stop contacting them). Further, the complainant admitted she texted our client to wish him a happy Father’s Day (also the last day of any text contact between the parties and not consistent with being the victim of stalking). The trial evidence also revealed that the landlord was at the home the day before Father’s day and overheard a conversation between the complainant and our client. Although hearsay prevented all of the testimony, the landlord heard the complainant ask our client to move her furniture on the day of the incident, one week later. Clearly, our client’s arrival to move furniture on the day of the kidnapping was no surprise. Compounding matters, a phone call was placed from the defendant’s phone at 9:23 am the morning of the “incident” where testimony revealed the complainant asked our client when he would arrive at her house. Despite the phone records, the complainant denied making the call (after denying any contact the complainant stated in substance, “I don’t remember making the call,” “I didn’t call” and “maybe I called, but it was only 49 seconds anyway.”
As direct and cross examination moved on, additional evidence (or lack of evidence) was revealed. For example, the landlord and his brother saw the our client using the “tools” of the kidnapping (rope, duct tape) while packing the car in the morning. Corroborative evidence supported our argument that the complainant, despite her denials, had sex with and came to our client’s home as recent as a week before (she stated she had not been there at all in June and not since their divorce in May). The complainant also stated that our client drove for about twenty minutes in mid day city traffic with a roughly five inch kitchen knife in his left hand (also on the steering wheel) while holding down the complainant’s seat belt without clicking it in (of course nobody noticed). Then, upon exiting the vehicle, our client placed that unsheathed knife in his waistband under his shorts (one would stab one’s self upon walking).
The absurdity did not end there. The complainant’s mother stated that throughout the day she was scared about what happened to her daughter. What did she do? She prayed. She did not walk the four blocks to the police station to make a report, call her husband or 911, or attempt to call her former son-in-law even thought the complainant left her phone at the apartment. Why? The mother believed that the complainant wouldn’t answer so therefore why bother calling.
Although the testimony is too great to review or address, the lies, holes in the story and misrepresentations added up quickly. In fact, the after the closing of our case, the prosecution dropped the charge of Second Degree Stalking from the jury’s consideration. Simply, the evidence did not exist to support that claim. After two and a half hours of reviewing the evidence, the jury determined there was not enough evidence to support any of the claims and found that the People did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Our client was cleared of all charges.
A trial is certainly not the best approach in every case. Mitigation may be the strongest defense. However, if accused of a crime, you and your criminal defense attorney should prepare as if a trial may take place and preserve evidence as early in the case as possible. Not doing so can make the difference between spending years in prison and walking out of a courtroom on your own volition.
Saland Law PC is a New York criminal and Federal defense firm located in lower Manhattan. Collectively, the partners at Saland Law PC served as trial attorneys in the Manhattan District Attorneys Office, Eastern District of New York and District of New Jersey. To learn more about Saland Law PC and New York and Federal criminal process and crimes, review the blogs and websites below.