Articles Posted in Current Events in Criminal Law (New York)

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NEWS FLASH: New York’s marijuana possession laws have changed.

You may have heard that New York has taken steps to “de-criminalize” marijuana possession, but you should not take this to mean that “weed has been completely legalized.” What New York HAS done is increased the amount of marijuana for which a “violation” offense may be charged in lieu of a crime. Of critical importance is the fact that a person convicted for a violation does not incur a permanent criminal record. Despite the changes to the law, people can still be arrested, charged, and fined for possessing a small amount of marijuana and these incidents may still lead to devastating immigration consequences.

Under New York’s now-replaced marijuana laws, it was a violation to possess any amount of marijuana under twenty-five grams, but there was a huge caveat: it was a crime to possess any amount of marijuana in a public place that was also “burning” or “open to public view.” In other words, just holding a blunt was enough to put you on the hook for a misdemeanor. Conversely, it was only a violation (and not a crime) to carry a bag of marijuana in your pocket, in the glove compartment of your car or in the privacy of your home. Under the old laws, anyone who possessed a quantity of marijuana over twenty-five grams (even if it was hidden away somewhere) was subject to criminal charges.

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Today in Queens Supreme Court, multi-platinum selling artist Belcalis M. Almanzar  – better known to the world as rapper “Cardi B” – is expected to be arraigned on a 12-count indictment stemming from a 2018 fight in a strip club. Cardi B now faces two “violent” felonies and a handful of misdemeanor and violation offenses after being accused of throwing bottles, chairs, and ‘Hookah’ pipes at club employees after a verbal altercation spun out of control. Cardi B is also accused of soliciting and facilitating members of her entourage to participate in the fracas. Two of the complaining witnesses are bartenders employed at the club, one of whom was accused by Cardi B of having an affair with her husband ‘Offset’ from the rap group ‘Migos.’ According to news sources citing criminal court documents, one of these complaining witnesses claims to have suffered “burning, itching and temporary blindness in her eyes” after being hit in the face with a drink.

Cardi B is expected to enter a plea of “not guilty” to the following indictment charges:

  • Attempted Assault in the Second Degree, in violation of Penal Law 110/120.05(1);
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A federal law enforcement investigation codenamed “Operation Varsity Blues” recently resulted in the arrests of dozens of people for allegedly conspiring to fraudulently obtain admissions into selective universities. Fifty people have been accused of working together to bribe university athletic coaches, submit fraudulent college applications, cheat on college entrance exams, and otherwise bribe college officials into admitting otherwise undeserving applicants. The accused individuals include two former Hollywood actresses – Felicity Huffman and Lori McLaughlin (who famously portrayed “Aunt Becky” on the TV show “Full House”) – as well as wealthy hedge fund managers and the chair of international law firm Wilkie Farr & Gallagher, among others. Wealthy parents paid as much as $6.5 million in bribes and fraudulent payments to get their children into the universities of their choice, including Stanford, Yale, USC and others. The case has seized the national attention as an example of the privileged elite abusing their power and influence, and the Department of Justice states that this is the largest college admissions scandal that it has ever prosecuted.

The case began as many federal investigations do – with an undercover cooperator. Somehow, law enforcement investigators with the FBI identified William Rick Singer, the founder and chief executive officer of a nonprofit “college placement organization” called the Key, as a person engaged in unlawful activity.  Though the precise details have not yet been shared, it is clear that they ultimately confronted him with the evidence of his illegal activity and made a deal with him: cooperate against the people who had enlisted his help in order to minimize his eventual punishment.

Mr. Singer then started recording his telephone calls and conversations with his criminal clients. Those calls apparently revealed a wide-ranging series of scams designed to get students into the schools of their choice. For example, Singer arranged for students who had struggled on the college entrance exams to get favorable disability diagnosis from an enlisted medical professional so as to get more time to take their tests. Then, he also arranged for the prospective students to take their college placement tests under the supervision of a paid-for proctor who either corrected their answers or permitted someone else to take their tests for them. Singer made arrangements to have students appear to be successful athletes when they were not, or flat-out bribed college athletic coaches into agreeing to tell the admissions office that they needed the students for their college sports teams. Some of the college coaches were allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraudulently accept students onto their teams (and therefore, into the school) without the relevant athletic credentials.

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Our attorneys have represented dozens of people arrested and/or given Desk Appearance Tickets for cases involving assault allegations. The recent disposition of actor Alec Baldwin’s (most recent) case provides an excellent example of what can happen in a straightforward assault case.

Mr. Baldwin was arrested in November after allegedly punching someone over a parking spot in Manhattan. Mr. Baldwin generally denied punching the other person though he admitted to pushing him. Baldwin was actually given a Desk Appearance Ticket and eventually charged with Attempted Assault in the Third Degree (Penal Law 110/120.00), a Class B misdemeanor, and Harassment in the Second Degree (Penal Law 240.26), a violation. Prosecutors reviewed video surveillance footage, spoke to witnesses, and considered the complainant’s medical records before ultimately making a plea bargain offer to Mr. Baldwin. Under the terms of that deal, which Mr. Baldwin accepted in January 2019, Mr. Baldwin pleaded guilty to Harassment in the Second Degree and will undergo a short anger management program.

By pleading guilty, Mr. Baldwin was convicted of Harassment in the Second Degree. However, this conviction is not a “crime” under New York state law, it is a violation and/or criminal offense. As such, in response to the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime,” Mr. Baldwin could answer “no”.  Also, upon completing this short anger management course (typically completed within one day), Mr. Baldwin’s records will be sealed to the public after one year. The most important benefit to this deal, of course, is that Mr. Baldwin avoids the possibility of being convicted of the misdemeanor charge and receiving a possible (though unlikely in this case) sentence of jail.

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This week especially, we observe the life of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The day should serve as a stark reminder that we must continue to fight against many of the same injustices that Dr. King did. A substantial portion of these injustices acutely manifest themselves in the criminal justice system. As such, we must continue to focus on bail reform, ending the mass incarceration of minorities, evening the criminal justice playing field by instituting better discovery provisions, appointing Judges who come from and understand the dynamics of the communities they preside over, helping prisoners obtain education so they may readjust to life after prison, enacting true expungement mechanisms to remove the life-long handicap of certain criminal convictions and allow for second chances, and more… Much of Dr. King’s Dream has yet to be realized. We all must do our part to ensure that justice is applied equally. Today we should reflect upon and honor everything Dr. King stood for, as well as ask ourselves how we can participate in fulfilling every aspect of his dream. -Galluzzo & Arnone.

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New York City has some of the nicest urban scenery to be found anywhere on Earth. Drones equipped with cameras may seem perfectly suited to photograph these scenes. Generally speaking, drones are becoming increasingly popular, so if you are an enthusiast, it is important to educate yourself on the law, rules and regulations that come with flying drones in the 55,000 square mile area of New York. Unfortunately, flying any sort of (manned or unmanned) aircraft over the city is banned except in certain designated locations (see below for exceptions). Paolo Prosetti, a Swiss tourist, was arrested two weeks ago after he crashed his drone through a 21st floor window in Times Square and tried to retrieve the drone and pay for the damage.

Notably, federal law and regulations take precedence over state and local laws. This means that everyone in the USA must register his drone with the Federal Aviation Administration and follow the FAA’s Special Rule for Model Aircraft.

There are nine major cities in New York State and all of them have made it illegal to fly drones in them (except for commercial drone applications which might get individual permits or licenses). Luckily, New York City allows you to take your drone to the skies in designated parks and model airfields like:

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From at least in or about January 2016, up to and including July 2018, in New York and New Jersey, Mikuki Suen, 43, Jian Min Huang, 42, Songhua Qu, 54, Kin Lui Chen, 53, and Fangrang Qu, 31 and others known and unknown allegedly smuggled hundreds of thousands of pairs of fake Nike Air Jordan sneakers. The five accused fake-shoes traffickers were arrested for having counterfeited over $70 million in Fake Nike shoes and sold them to buyers on the U.S. market. The NYPD and the Department of Homeland Security received the help of a confidential source who helped make numerous purchases during the investigation. This confidential source has been a law enforcement source for approximately two years.

Nike’s Air Jordan line of sneakers are some of the most popular and expensive athletic shoes in circulation. Nike has released a different Air Jordan model almost every year since the shoe line was first introduced in 1984. Many of these models are known by their model number, like the Air Jordan XIII, the 13th model, and some models are known by the year of introduction, like the Air Jordan 2009. Air Jordan sneakers can cost from approximately 100$ to the thousands of dollars, depending on color and design.

More than 42 containers carrying nearly 400 000 pairs of the trendy fake sneakers traveled from factories in China to Port Newark.  These sneakers were produced to resemble Air Jordan sneakers in design and color but are “generic” (the “Generic Air Jordan”). They were imported into the U.S. without the inclusion of logos that are trademarks registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”). Once the Generic Air Jordan arrived in the U.S., they were altered within the New York area to add trademarked logos to the shoes in warehouses in Queens and Brooklyn. Once this alteration took place, the shoes were considered “counterfeit”. Finally, the Counterfeit Sneaker Ring processed with the distribution of the fake shoes within the U.S. at a significant profit.

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Perhaps someday, the New York Assembly will legalize sex work (several political candidates have recently promised to take steps toward legalization).  For now, however, it is still a Class B misdemeanor in New York to “engage or agree or offer to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee.” Penal Law § 230.00. Similarly, it is illegal to patronize a prostitute, meaning that it is a misdemeanor to “pay a fee to another person as compensation for such person or a third person having engaged in sexual conduct with him or her, or to pay or agree to pay a fee to another person pursuant to an understanding that in return therefor such person or a third person shall engage in sexual conduct with him or her.” Penal Law §§ 230.02 and 230.04. Of course, it is also illegal to promote prostitution (i.e. be a pimp or madam), which means to “knowingly cause or aid a person to commit or engage in prostitution, procure or solicit patrons for prostitution, provide persons or premises for prostitution purposes, or operate or assist in the operation of a house of prostitution or a prostitution enterprise, or engage in any other conduct designed to institute, aid or facilitate an act or enterprise of prostitution.” Penal Law §§ 230.15 and 230.20.

Law enforcement has long sought, with mixed results, to combat prostitution offenses in New York City. Back when prostitutes used to walk the streets of notorious neighborhoods in Manhattan, police would arrest prostitutes for just “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” (basically, walking on the sidewalk dressed like a prostitute talking to potential customers about tricks). Police would also go undercover and pose as johns to get prostitutes to make illegal offers of sexual conduct for fees. Police officers continue to pose as prostitutes to entice johns to make illegal offers, though nowadays they are more likely to find a target inside of a nice establishment in the city instead of on the sidewalk.  Indeed, undercover police officers dressed as attractive prostitutes often target middle aged men alone at hotel bars and proposition them to see if they will “take the bait,” so to speak. These sting victims oftentimes have legitimate entrapment defenses, but not after already having been humiliated and having had their livelihoods placed in danger as a result of the arrests.

With the advent of the internet, much of the prostitution business moved online to websites like Craigslist and Backpage. Prostitutes and escorts would post ads on these sites and johns would simply call them to make appointments. The postings were so numerous that despite some law enforcement efforts to make undercover arrests of these prostitutes – and perhaps more effectively, arrests of johns via false prostitution ads – the sheer volume of ads on these sites made it impossible to realistically stop the trade via undercover operations. Ultimately, the “escort” sections of these sites were shut down by law enforcement threats to hold the managers of these sites criminally and civilly liable.

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After fighting aggressively for over five months – both in and out of New York Criminal Court – Eric Arnone has secured outright dismissal of all eight charges filed against his 20-year-old client, who faced over 25 years in prison if convicted.

In this challenging case for the defense, Arnone’s client had been falsely accused by multiple complaining witnesses of robbing them of their cell phones while brandishing weapons. These serious allegations were made even more difficult to overcome in light of an allegation that a cell phones belonging to one of the complaining witnesses was recovered from the client at the scene. The client was further accused of acting in concert with a co-defendant to strike one of the complaining witnesses in the head with a broken bottle, thereby causing serious injury. A number of people at the scene were treated by EMS and some were hospitalized.

After conducting an extensive investigation on his client’s behalf, Arnone was able to affirmatively disprove that the robbery ever took place, and demonstrated to prosecutors that any physical force undertaken by his clients was indeed justified under New York law. Thankfully, the defense investigation succeeded in turning up invaluable surveillance camera footage which contradicted the account of the alleged victims.

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Today, a federal jury in Virginia found President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, guilty of eight of the eighteen crimes contained in an indictment filed against him. Specifically, Manafort was found guilty of five tax fraud charges, one charge of hiding foreign bank accounts and two counts of bank fraud. The question now is how much jail time he will receive from the sentencing judge.

As a preliminary matter, for the purposes of this analysis, we assume that Mr. Manafort will not be pardoned by the President. Also, we assume that Mr. Manafort will not be convicted of any other charges. The judge in this trial declared a mistrial as to ten of the eighteen counts in the indictment on account of the jury’s inability to decide guilt or innocence on those charges, but that does not mean that Manafort is clear of those charges. Indeed, prosecutors could attempt to convict him again with a new jury. However, I expect that will not happen, as the prosecutors are likely satisfied by the result, and convicting Manafort on the remaining charges would not really change things very much.

Federal sentencing can be extraordinarily complex and is often very uncertain. By statute, a sentencing court must impose a sentence “sufficient, but not greater than necessary,” to serve the ends of justice. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). A sentencing judge is obviously constrained by the statutory maximums and minimums for the crimes of conviction, but oftentimes, the crimes have enormously wide sentencing possibilities (for example, the bank fraud charge for which Manafort was convicted has a potential statutory sentence of between zero and thirty years in prison, 18 U.S.C. 1344). So, federal judges look to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, promulgated by the federal government.