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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.

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Galluzzo & Arnone recently earned an excellent result for our client in Brooklyn federal court (the Eastern District of New York). Our client was originally arrested at JFK Airport in 1990 and charged with lying to a U.S. Customs agent about a significant amount of cash that he had in his possession at the airport. Federal prosecutors indicted him for two criminal charges related to this deception, in violation of 31 USC 1536(b) and 18 USC 1001. However, rather than return to court and defend himself, he returned to his home country and remained there for the next 28 years (note: he was not our client in 1990). Later, in 2018, he attempted to come back to the United States to visit his family but was arrested at the airport pursuant to a 1990 warrant for failing to appear in the Brooklyn federal court as required.

The sentencing range for the original criminal charges under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines was 12-18 months (Base Offense Level of 13 with a two level increase for obstructing justice offset by a possible two level reduction for acceptance of responsibility following a guilty plea). Of course, the client also now faced the possibility of additional criminal charges and penalties for acting as a fugitive and failing to appear in court.  The prosecution initially submitted a proposed plea agreement whereby the client would receive a sentence of between 12-18 months in prison.

However, the attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone presented to the federal prosecutor considerable mitigating evidence of our client’s life story and family, as well as circumstances surrounding his original crimes. Ultimately, the prosecutors agreed to allow the client to plead guilty to the second count of the original indictment and avoid additional charges for acting as a fugitive. The second count of the indictment carried a 0-6 month Guidelines sentence, representing a considerable savings on the original 12-18. Then, we were able to persuade the judge to schedule an expedited sentencing hearing and ultimately to sentence our client to time served. Thus, instead of receiving a sentence of between 12-18, as it originally appeared our client would, our client received a sentence of less than four months. Obviously, the client is quite happy with the result.

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18 USC Section 2423

Federal criminal law prohibits a wide range of activities relating to transporting people and/or traveling across state lines or internationally for the purpose of engaging in illegal sexual activity. Specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 2423 prohibits four types of activities and carries very severe penalties.

First, 18 U.S.C. § 2423 makes it a felony punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison (and by as much as life in prison) to “knowingly transport[] an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years in interstate or foreign commerce… with intent that the individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.” This provision obviously applies to those engaging in the human trafficking of underage prostitutes, and also potentially applies to an adult who drives or attempts to drive a minor across state lines so that he or she can have sex with that minor in another state. It could also apply to people who purchase bus or plane tickets for minors to travel into the U.S. or across state lines for the purpose of engaging in illegal sex.

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Understanding the Weinstein indictment and the next steps

According to numerous reports, Harvey Weinstein has been indicted on charges of Rape in the First Degree, Rape in the Third Degree, and Criminal Sexual Act in the First and Third Degrees. The first-degree charges are Class B violent felonies, meaning that they are punishable by a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 25 years in prison. Rape in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.35) applies to cases in which defendants allegedly use forcible compulsion (physical force or the threat of physical force or harm) to engage in non-consensual vaginal intercourse. Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.50) applies to cases in which the defendants have allegedly used forcible compulsion to non-consensually penetrate mouths or anuses with their penises. (Thus, the distinction between “Rape” and “Criminal Sexual Act” under New York criminal law is the orifice being penetrated.) The third-degree varieties of these charges most commonly are applied in situations where a person is “incapable of consent,” meaning physically helpless (i.e. asleep or intoxicated). These third-degree charges are Class E felonies without mandatory minimum prison sentences.

It should come as no surprise that Weinstein was indicted given that he was arrested and preliminarily charged with these same crimes. Indeed, an indictment by the grand jury was basically a sure thing once the decision to arrest Weinstein was made. Weinstein could have testified before the grand jury in his own defense but that would have been a tactical mistake. A grand jury presentation in a case like this normally involves a prosecutor simply calling the complainant to testify under oath before the grand jurors about the crime. A defendant being indicted (for any crime, not just rape and sexual assault) does not get to listen to the witnesses testifying against him in the grand jury, nor does his attorney have the right to cross-examine those witnesses or make arguments to the grand jury. However, by testifying before the grand jury, Weinstein would have subjected himself to being cross-examined by a prosecutor under oath. That decision would have locked him into a version of events that he could not later modify or correct for trial. Equally problematically, it would have given the prosecutor an opportunity to hear Weinstein’s trial testimony prior to trial. This would have afforded the prosecutor months (or maybe even years) to prepare a scathing cross-examination for trial after having a “practice round” with him in the grand jury. Given that the odds of prevailing at the grand jury are normally terrible for a defendant – and probably especially so for Weinstein given the publicity surrounding his situation – there was realistically very little for Weinstein to gain from testifying before the grand jury. Most defendants understandably decline to do so.

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Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. recently announced a change in policy that will soon effect many low-level marijuana offenders in Manhattan. To those who smoke and possess marijuana in New York City, the message was clear: he does not want to prosecute you. The new policy will be aimed at countering the NYPD’s proven disparate treatment of racial minorities in the form of unequal enforcement of the marijuana laws, as well as reduce the number of low-level cases that are handled in the City’s Courts by the thousands. Echoing Vance’s desire to reduce unnecessary arrests and disparity in the enforcement of the law, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that the NYPD would be required to overhaul it’s marijuana policy as well.

Vance’s policy change comes on the heels of a disturbing (albeit unsurprising) study which revealed that African-Americans are arrested for low-level marijuana offenses at a rate 8 times that of whites in New York City, and 15 times more than white people in Manhattan alone. The critical component of the study of course indicated that both African-American and white folks use marijuana at the same rate.

In light of these (and other) statistics, beginning on August 1, 2018, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will simply stop prosecuting low-level criminal cases involving smoking and possession of marijuana, with few exemptions. Yes, you read that correctly: If you are arrested for smoking a marijuana cigarette, joint, blunt or pipe in public, or otherwise possess a small enough quantity of marijuana, the Manhattan DA’s office will not prosecute you as of that date. DA Vance expects that the number of marijuana cases handled by the system annually to be reduced from roughly 5,000 to 200 as a result.

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Earlier this month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., announced three new policies to further streamline the criminal justice system and reduce the backlog of cases in New York County’s Criminal Courts. As of February 1, 2018, the Manhattan DA’s Office began declining to prosecute, with certain exceptions, all New York City subway farebeat (“turnstile jump”) and unlicensed general vendor cases. That same date, the Manhattan DA’s office instituted a sweeping desk appearance ticket policy in which first-arrestees who are issued tickets for low-level, non-violent misdemeanor charges are given the option of attending a two to four-hour “pre-arraignment diversion program” in lieu of being formally prosecuted in a court of law. Upon proof of program completion, the Manhattan DA’s Office promises to then decline to prosecute entirely – meaning, no formal charges will be brought. Only those who opt out of the program (or otherwise fail to complete it) will be directed to appear in court to face prosecution. Simply put – first arrestees for low-level offenses will now have the option of going to class instead of court.

While this new policy would appear to be a noble effort on the part of the Manhattan District Attorney to benefit all, this new first-arrest policy will have an unintended but disastrous effect on arrestees who (a) work for FDIC-insured banks or intend to do so in the future, and (b) are charged with petit larceny (or any theft-related offense). Whereas our lawyers normally strive to secure adjournments in contemplation of dismissal (“ACD”) for first-arrestee clients charged with low-level theft-related offenses, these delayed dismissals can have a disastrous effect on current or prospective employees of FDIC-insured institutions.

As we have explained carefully in a previous blog, Section 19 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act prohibits, without the prior written consent of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a person convicted of a criminal offense involving dishonesty, breach of trust, money laundering,

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Understanding Domestic Violence and the Criminal Justice System

Some of the most common types of cases in New York City’s criminal courts are those involving domestic violence. The criminal courts classify as “domestic violence” those crimes allegedly committed against family members, spouses, and/or current or former romantic partners. Those crimes can include actual violent acts like assault and/or rape, threatening behavior like menacing or harassment, and violations of orders of protection (criminal contempt), among other things. Typical charges might include Assault in the Third Degree (Penal Law 120.00, a class A misdemeanor), Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree (Penal Law 240.30, a class A misdemeanor), Strangulation in the Second Degree (Penal Law 121.12, a class D felony), and Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree (Penal Law 215.50) (a class A misdemeanor).

Many victims of domestic violence are surprised to learn that they cannot simply “drop the charges” against a defendant, or voluntarily and immediately terminate the criminal case they helped initiate. Quite frequently, a dispute between family members or spouses leads to someone calling the police, and when the police arrive, one of the participants in the argument (or the victim) reports that they have been assaulted or threatened. That report alone provides probable cause for the police to make an arrest, and, generally, police are in fact required to make an arrest under such circumstances. The complainants frequently regret having made the reports leading to the arrests, but after the arrests, the decision about whether the case proceeds or not is not the complainant’s decision to make.

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The viability of the Paz de la Huerta rape case against Harvey Weinstein

Recently, numerous media outlets have published stories suggesting that the NYPD has built a “viable case” of rape against Harvey Weinstein based upon a complaint made by actress Paz de la Huerta. (Specifically, according to a recent Vanity Fair article, the actress claims that Harvey Weinstein raped her in her apartment on two occasions in 2010). Given that dozens of women – mostly Hollywood actresses – have now publicly complained of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein, the public’s desire to see Weinstein punished is incredibly high. The Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance, is deservedly under considerable pressure to bring Weinstein to justice. After all, his office made a basically indefensible decision to dismiss a strong sexual assault case against Weinstein based upon a timely and straightforward complaint by a victim which was corroborated by an audiotaped confession and a prompt outcry to a friend. This decision is especially ripe for criticism since Weinstein’s defense attorneys donated money to Vance’s re-election campaign.

However, bringing this new rape case against Weinstein may actually be far more difficult and problematic than this prior sexual assault case against Weinstein that the D.A.’s office chose not to prosecute. What follows is the objective and detached opinion of Matthew Galluzzo, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor in the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.