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

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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.

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The case of Jamill Jones and whether he should be charged with homicide.

Recently, an unfortunate tragedy occurred in Queens resulting in a man’s death. A tourist from Florida named Sandor Szabo requested an Uber to take him from a family member’s wedding. In an apparently intoxicated effort to find his Uber, Mr. Szabo banged on several nearby cars with his fists. He eventually banged on the car belonging to Jamill Jones, an assistant coach for the Wake Forest University men’s basketball team. Mr. Jones got out of his car and punched Szabo one time in the face. Szabo fell to the ground and hit his head on the pavement. Jones drove away. Szabo was taken to the hospital and later died from the injury. See “Wake Forest coach could face murder charges,” NY Post, August 10, 2018.

Jones was identified and surrendered himself to police. As of yet, he has only been charged with a misdemeanor assault in violation of Penal Law Section 120.00 (Assault in the Third Degree, to be precise). That charge makes it a crime, punishable by up to one year in prison, to intentionally cause physical injury to another person. This is a typical charge for a single punch to the face. The fact that Mr. Szabo tragically died, however, makes the situation more complicated from a legal perspective. The New York Post article suggests that Mr. Jones could face murder charges, but that is perhaps imprecise or incorrect. Murder charges (such as the most common charge of Murder in the Second Degree, in violation of Penal Law Section 125.25) would require a showing that Jones not only killed Szabo, but that he intended to kill Szabo. That seems unlikely given that he only punched Szabo once.

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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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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,