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In this blog, we continue our discussion of the common criminal charges people face when accused of Making Graffiti.

CRIMINAL MISCHIEF

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the various elements of the crimes of Making Graffiti and Possession of Graffiti Instruments, two charges which often go hand in hand in these types of cases. However, in cases where actual damage is caused to property, arrestees may find themselves faced with the charge of “Criminal Mischief” [Penal Law §145.00] (note that the Graffiti statute only requires intent to damage property, whereas this statute requires actual damage be caused). Once again, any argument that graffiti is “improving” property, absent permission by the property owner, will fail and graffiti that defaces property will be deemed to also damage it. Any damage to property, regardless of the dollar amount of such damage, would fall under Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree, which is a class “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. In cases where damage is alleged to exceed $250.00, the charges may be elevated to Criminal Mischief in the Third Degree, a Class “E” felony which is punishable up to 1 and 1/3 – 4 years in jail for a first time offender. The addition of these charges can sometimes be problematic for those who seek to preserve their records and change the landscape of any plea negotiation.

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In this two-part series, we endeavor to help our readers understand the law of making graffiti in New York, as well as the usual charges that lie in criminal cases involving graffiti making. While some may view graffiti and “tagging” as a form of art, the New York City Police Department and local District Attorneys beg to differ. With Vandalism Squads and anti-graffiti initiatives in place, law enforcement’s message is clear: tolerance for graffiti making is low and it will not go unpunished. In this blog we discuss the charges commonly found in graffiti cases, most of which involve allegations of “tagging” or painting on public or the private property.

Making graffiti on property without the owner’s permission to do so is a class “A” misdemeanor in New York State, punishable by up to one year in jail. In recent years, the City has stepped up it’s effort to combat graffiti writing and enforce this law, with the New York City Police Department going as far as creating an anti-graffiti task force and offering cash rewards for people who continually violate the graffiti statute.

MAKING GRAFFITI

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A majority of our clients are booked, processed and “put through the system,” meaning they are brought to central booking shortly after arrest and then brought out before a Judge for an arraignment on the charges. Usually, this arraignment occurs within roughly 24 hours of the arrest. Other clients are issued Desk Appearance Tickets (“D.A.T.’s”) or summonses which command them to return to Court on a future date.

In Manhattan, specifically, most arrestees are brought downtown to the 100 Centre Street Courthouse to face charges. However a smaller number of defendants are directed to appear in Manhattan’s Midtown Community Court which is located at 314 West 54th Street in Manhattan. In this blog, we cover some of the Midtown Community Court basics to shed light on what should be expected for those who find themselves in the unfortunate predicament of having to fight a charge or charges there.

Midtown Community Court was launched in 1993 with the primary objective of dealing with quality-of-life offenses, so most of the cases involve misdemeanors and/or violations. Examples of some of the common charges you are likely to face in Midtown Community Court include:

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Under New York state law, there are three degrees of rape, with Rape in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.35) being the most serious (a Class B violent felony). Rape in the Third Degree (Penal Law 130.25), however, may be the most common criminal charge, and it can be brought in three different ways.

Per the statute: “A person is guilty of Rape in the Third Degree when: 1. He or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person who is incapable of consent by reason of some factor other than being less than seventeen years old; 2. Being twenty-one years old or more, he or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person less than seventeen years old; or 3. He or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person without such person’s consent where such lack of consent is by reason of some factor other than incapacity to consent.”

Subsection 2 is the most common charge, which involves a criminal charge being brought against an older person (21 years old or older) and a complainant younger than 17. Notably, this charge can be brought against the will of the younger party, meaning that it is not necessary for the complainant to “press charges” for the older person to be convicted. Sometimes these charges are proven without the testimony of the younger party by medical evidence or pregnancy, third party witnesses (who catch and observe the people in the act of sexual intercourse), or admissions by the older party.

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The New York District Attorney’s Office recently announced that a Manhattan grand jury has indicted Harvey Weinstein for additional sexual assault charges relating to a third complainant. Specifically, Mr. Weinstein is facing an additional charge of Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.50). Mr. Weinstein was already facing a charge of Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree based upon the allegation that he had forced a different woman to perform oral sex upon him against her will, and a separate count of Rape in the First Degree for allegedly raping a second complainant. Interestingly, he is also now facing two counts of Predatory Sexual Assault (Penal Law Section 130.95). These new charges significantly alter the forecast for Mr. Weinstein and seriously hamper his defense for tactical reasons discussed below.

Predatory Sexual Assault charges are very serious Class A-II felonies. They carry mandatory minimum prison sentences of ten years in jail, and a conviction for this crime carries a mandatory maximum sentence of life in prison. (Thus, for example, a person sentenced to an indeterminate prison sentence of ten years to life would be eligible for parole after roughly ten years, and if granted parole would then be on parole for the rest of his life.) These charges can apply in a variety of circumstances, but here, they have been applied because he is accused of committing the crimes of Rape in the First Degree or Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree against multiple people. See Penal Law Section 130.95(2). Basically, Mr. Weinstein would be convicted of this charge if it is proven that he in fact sexually assaulted more than one of the complainants. (There are two Predatory Sexual Assault counts that presumably apply to different combinations of complainants in this matter).

These charges have an important practical effect on the case (notwithstanding these potential penalties). Specifically, in order to get convictions on these charges, the prosecutor would now have to prove at trial that Weinstein assaulted more than one of the three current complainants in the case. It might at first seem that the prosecutors have made their jobs more difficult by adding these charges, but in actuality, this new evidentiary necessity thwarts an anticipated defense strategy for trial severance.

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A federal appeals Court has held upheld – for now – a criminal statute which makes it illegal to possess a gravity knife in New York.

As former prosecutors who specialize in criminal defense, our attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone have a great deal of experience assisting people who find themselves in the unfortunate position of being charged with weapons possession, in particular what are commonly referred to as ‘gravity knives.’ Indeed, many of our clients lawfully purchase these knives from such on-line marketplaces as Amazon.com or in popular brick-and-mortar stores like K-Mart. Completely unaware that the possession of such knives is illegal in New York, these clients openly carry the knives on their belts, or clipped to their pockets, only to find themselves in handcuffs and  going to criminal court charged with the Class “A” misdemeanor of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree (which is punishable by up to 1 year in jail).

So what exactly is a gravity knife? A “Gravity knife” is defined under New York Penal Law 265.01(5) as “any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application or centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device.” In practical terms, any knife which a police officer can open with the flick of a wrist and which locks into place falls under this definition. Not surprisingly, police officers are particularly adept at opening and locking the knives into place.

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If you are reading this blog, you may be one of the many people under the impression that smoking and possessing marijuana in New York City is now legal. Or, perhaps you’ve been issued a summons accusing you of doing so. First of all, marijuana possession is still illegal in New York City and State, and such will be the case unless and until the legislature acts to amend the law.

What has changed however, is the New York Police Department’s approach to marijuana arrests. In short, you can absolutely still be charged with a crime if caught smoking or possessing marijuana in public. The NYPD, however, has announced that it will cease making full-blown arrests and instead will issue summonses in these cases with limited exceptions (if the person they stop is on probation or parole, has outstanding warrants or a history of violence, or is in violation of another law (ie, DWI drugs).

A summons is a pink ticket handed to you by a police officer which can charge you with a crime or a violation. If you receive one, it means you have been commanded to answer misdemeanor and/or violation charges in a Court of law. Failure to abide by the summons and appear in Court can and will result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. So you (or a lawyer who can go on your behalf – see below) must answer the ticket personally.

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It can be somewhat dangerous for people to travel in and out of the United States with large quantities of cash. Section 5316(b) of the Title 31 of the U.S. Code requires individuals to file reports with U.S. Customs when “knowingly transporting [or] being about to transport monetary instruments of more than ten thousand dollars at one time.” The failure to file such a report is a violation of 31 U.S.C. 5361(a)(1)(A), and if a Customs officer discovers an individual who has misrepresented the amount of cash he or she is carrying, that officer will almost certainly seize the cash for forfeiture in addition to arresting the defendant. Those individuals arrested for failing to disclose their cash may also be subject to the charge of lying to a federal agent, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.

The penalties for this crime can be significant depending on the amount of cash that was being concealed. For most “bulk cash smuggling offenses,” the federal sentencing guidelines set a base offense level of eight (meaning 0-6 months in jail), see U.S.S.G. 2S1.3(a)(2) and U.S.S.G. 2S1.3(b)(1)(B), plus enhancements based upon the amount of money. See U.S.S.G. 2B1.1. Accordingly, for illegally smuggling, say, $20,000, the federal Sentencing Guidelines might suggest a sentence of 10-16 months in prison for first-time offenders (though this figure is highly dependent upon other variables).

People are often wary about revealing the amount of cash they are actually carrying through Customs because they are afraid that the cash will be investigated. The cash may constitute the proceeds of a crime, or suggest that someone has failed to disclose all of their income to the tax authorities. Regardless of whether the cash is actually illegal or not, however, the Customs officer is likely to seize a significant quantity of cash (50-100% of it, normally) and keep it unless and until the legitimate source of the income is sufficiently proven. This process of contesting forfeiture can take months and typically requires the assistance of an attorney to stand a solid chance of success.

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Most people do not realize that it is a federal crime to lie to a federal law enforcement agent. However, 18 U.S.C. § 1001 makes it a federal felony, punishable by up to five years in prison (or 8 years for a case involving terrorism), to “knowingly and willfully falsify, conceal, or cover[] up any trick, scheme or device a material fact… or make[] any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” in regards to a federal law enforcement investigation. It also prohibits the knowing and willful making or using of any “false writing or documents containing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry.” Thus, for example, a criminal suspect who lies when questioned by an FBI agent can be guilty of a serious crime, even if that suspect is not actually guilty of the underlying crime for which he was being investigated. This situation often arises when people who have received subpoenas from law enforcement agents unfortunately sometimes agree to speak with agents or prosecutors but then make statements that those agents later discover to be untrue.

Most of the time however, people accused of this crime are frequently also charged with other crimes, too. For example, this charge is frequently brought against those who lie to U.S. Customs officials about their possession of cash, in conjunction with a charge of 31 USC § 5361(a)(1)(A). It is also common in health care fraud matters for a defendant to be charged with violating both 18 U.S.C. § 1035 – making false statements relating to health care matters – as well as 18 U.S.C. § 1001. In any case, the additional charge for making false statements may not be as serious as the underlying crime for which the defendant was originally investigated, but the fact that the defendant lied to law enforcement can be viewed as an “aggravating factor” by the judge at sentencing, meaning that it could seriously increase the ultimate sentence that the defendant will serve.

Though the maximum possible statutory penalty for this offense is five years in prison, pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the base offense level for this crime is 6. This base offense level means that a person convicted of this crime (and this crime alone) is more likely to receive a sentence of between 0 to 6 months in prison.

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Delayed flights, crowded airplanes, rude people, and stressful rides to the airport can make airline travel particularly stressful. Sometimes, rude flight attendants or passengers fueled by alcohol can cause tempers to flare, and physical fights sometimes erupt during the flight. These fights or disputes can result in federal criminal charges, as “the special maritime jurisdiction” of federal courts applies to airplanes coming into the United States or traveling across state lines.

Federal assault charges can apply to any person who causes an offensive physical touching to another person on the airplane. Certainly, that can apply to physical violence, but it might also apply to unwanted sexual touching of another person as well. Assaulting another person on an airplane is normally a petty offense under federal criminal law, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(5). (Those accused of sexually assaulting others on airplanes can also be prosecuted with the more serious felony charge of 18 U.S.C. § 2244(b), however, and attempts to maim or murder can be prosecuted as felonies, as well). That means that the crime is a misdemeanor with a maximum prison penalty of six months and/or a fine of $5000.00. Also, it means that the defendant is not entitled to a jury trial. Instead, the defendant must have his case tried by a federal magistrate judge.

Locating and interviewing witnesses in these cases is of paramount importance to the defense. Occasionally, shaky cell phone video footage might be available of the incident or dispute, and it may actually vindicate the accused person. Sometimes defendants have even acted unknowingly or unintentionally, by virtue of intoxicated or sleep disorders, and such defense should be explored and developed if applicable.