Articles Posted in Narcotics and Controlled Substance Offenses

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Individuals without criminal records arrested for misdemeanors in New York City are routinely charged by way of a Desk Appearance Ticket. Though individuals issued Desk Appearance Ticket do not spend twenty-four hours in prison awaiting arraignment like other defendants, their cases are no less serious than those misdemeanor cases pursued the “traditional” way (in which defendants do not get released from custody until they are arraigned before a judge the day after their arrests). One of the advantages for defendants issued Desk Appearance Tickets (as opposed to the “traditional way”) is that they have an opportunity to seek counsel of their choosing for their arraignments. As a result, the attorney-authors of this blog are routinely asked: “Should I hire an attorney for my Desk Appearance Ticket?” Our typical answer: only if you care about your future, your career, or your family.

Public defenders are available for indigent defendants at arraignments on Desk Appearance Tickets. However, if you are not indigent, then you do not qualify for a public defender, meaning that you will have to return with a privately-retained lawyer anyway. Even if you do qualify, technically, for a public defender, you should consider various other reasons for hiring a private attorney. First and foremost, you will be unable to speak to a public defender in advance of your court date, whereas a private defense attorney can meet with you and prepare you and answer your questions in advance of your court date. Also, defendants with private attorneys are usually seen by the judge first and can typically leave before 10:30 am; those people relying on public defenders may find themselves waiting in line all day to talk to an attorney, and waiting to see a judge well into the afternoon session. If your case lasts beyond the arraignment, you may find it extremely difficult to get ahold of a public defender, as they are typically responsible for hundreds of criminal cases at a given moment and are often unable to respond to voicemails; in contrast, a private lawyer presumably has more time to answer your phone calls and questions and meet with you in the office. The private attorneys at our office, unlike public defenders, will continue to work on your case after its done to ensure that where, if applicable, the records of your arrest have been properly sealed and the matter cleared from the public domain. Finally, the attorneys at our office, unlike public defenders, can sometimes in certain types of cases assist out-of-state residents, students, or foreign citizens by appearing for them in lieu of personal appearances.

Most importantly, though, these matters are important and must be taken seriously. A criminal conviction – even for a misdemeanor – can create permanent obstacles to employment, naturalization, university admission, and more. There is no expungement of criminal convictions in New York, so a criminal conviction for even a misdemeanor is a permanent matter of public record and can haunt a person for the rest of his or her life. FINRA-licensed brokers can unwittingly jeopardize their careers in seemingly trivial matters, and non-citizens can prevent themselves from being able to stay in the United States in accepting a disposition that seems otherwise reasonable. These are mistakes that can be avoided with the advice of good and prepared counsel.

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The New Frontier of Drug Crimes: Silk Road, Agora, and the Dark Web

The traditional business model of drug trafficking, though potentially lucrative, is fraught with peril and obstacles for its participants at all levels. Thanks to fantastic television programs like The Wire and Breaking Bad, many Americans already have a basic understanding of this business model: Transactions are conducted using cash, and regulatory safeguards at banks and other institutions make it difficult for dealers to use their income to make large purchases (thereby necessitating the risky business of money laundering). Transactions are also generally made face-to-face and hand-to-hand, meaning that the dealers and buyers can be fairly easily identified or apprehended by law enforcement.

These sorts of traditional drug dealing operations use levels and levels of intermediaries to protect the chiefs from being directly implicated, but law enforcement officers have routinely been able to force low- and medium-level dealers to “snitch” on their suppliers. Moreover, this business model’s need for a human being to personally deliver contraband makes the buyers and sellers potentially subject to violent acts by thieves or competitors.

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Operating as a major trafficker – NY’s “Kingpin” statute (Penal Law Section 220.77)

A few years ago, the New York Assembly enacted into law a tough new statute designed to increase the penalties for major narcotics traffickers or managers of drug trafficking organizations. Penal Law 220.77, oftentimes referred to as New York’s “kingpin statute,” makes it a Class A-1 felony offense to

  1. act as a director of a controlled substance organization during any period of twelve months or less, during which period such controlled substance organization sells one or more controlled substances, and the proceeds collected or due from such sale or sales have a total aggregate value of seventy-five thousand dollars or more; or
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In response to a surge in seizures of methamphetamine laboratories in New York state, in 2007 the Assembly passed tough new laws outlawing the operation of facilities used to produce illegal “chemical” drugs like methamphetamine and its variants. Thus, anyone aspiring to be like Walter White on Breaking Bad faces significant penalties for their criminal behavior.

The definitions provided in Penal Law 220.62 make this charge fairly all-encompassing of any activity related to the operation of a drug laboratory. Indeed, it is not only the “manager” of the operation that can be held responsible; basically anyone and everyone that possesses or supplies materials or acts in furtherance of the operation of a laboratory can arrested and charged with the crime of Unlawful Clandestine Drug Operation in the Second Degree (Penal Law 220.63). This charge is a Class C felony. The First Degree charge (Penal Law 220.64, Class B felony) arises where there are aggravating factors, such as repeat offending, health/safety/environmental risks, the participation of a juvenile, or proximity to a school. Also, the utilization of booby traps elevates a Second-Degree charge to the First Degree.

Convictions for these charges carry potentially very significant prison sentences, so a defense must be thorough and intelligent. Typically these cases involve search warrants or wiretaps that can at least be challenged with pre-trial motions. Also, these charges often involve multiple co-defendants or conspiracy allegations, meaning that certain defendants can claim to have been wrongfully included amongst the operators of the laboratory.

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Craigslist crimes defense attorney explains common NYC arrests

Recently we have noticed an uptick in the number of arrests made by NYPD following investigations of advertisements on the popular website Craigslist (and to a lesser extent: the website Backpage). Though these websites can facilitate an almost limitless variety of crimes, the ones most commonly associated with these sites relate to prostitution-related services and sales of controlled substances/narcotics.

Controlled substances (Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, Penal Law Chapter 220)

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Search Warrants

In New York, a valid search warrant signed by a judge can give law enforcement officers the right to search your home or place of business (among other places) for evidence of criminal conduct. Sometimes search warrants are obtained after long criminal investigations, and sometimes they are applied for quickly in emergency cases in which law enforcement fears that evidence will be destroyed. A judge can sign a search warrant where he believes, based upon sworn affirmations made to him by law enforcement and/or civilian informants, that there is probable cause to believe that the targeted location contains evidence of criminality.

Most commonly, search warrants obtained by officers from the NYPD are sought for firearms or narcotics (though the list of possible reasons for a search warrant is endless). With respect to narcotics-related search warrants, police officers will typically not apply for a warrant until they can affirm to a judge that some police officer or police informant has either seen or purchased narcotics inside the location, and done so recently. (When information about possible contraband in a location is not recent, it is considered “stale” and insufficient to justify a search warrant.)

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New York City is home to a plethora of fantastic and popular nightclubs. LAVO, 1OAK, Webster Hall, Cielo, the Sullivan Room, subMercer, Pacha, RdV, Bossa Nova Civic Club, Tenjune, the Village Underground, Bembe, Club Macanudo, the Woods, bOb Bar, and the 40/40 Club are just a few of the clubs that New Yorkers and people from around the world visit to dance and have a great time in the city. Undercover narcotics officers have prowled nightclubs and attempted to buy drugs from dealers operating inside the clubs for a long time. However, as nightclubs in New York come under more pressure from law enforcement authorities to ensure that their establishments are drug-free, more and more people are being arrested as a result of searches by private security guards and bouncers patrolling the nightclubs. For example, one popular dance club in Manhattan, Webster Hall, has instituted a policy of routinely frisking people seeking admittance at the front door to ensure that they are not attempting to bring any drugs inside. We are aware of one recent incident in which a female bouncer at the entrance to Webster Hall reached into the bra of a woman trying to enter the club, and in so doing, discovered MDMA (ecstasy) inside her bra. This woman was then referred to the police at the 9th Precinct, who arrested her and gave her a Desk Appearance Ticket for a violation of Penal Law Section 220.03 (a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison).

Notably, the security guards at private clubs are not normally required to adhere to the Fourth Amendment rules about unlawful searches and seizures. Obviously, the Fourth Amendment instructs that police officers are not allowed to frisk someone without sufficient cause to do so, and any evidence obtained by an unlawful police seizure is inadmissible in court per the doctrine known as "fruit of the poisonous tree". Thus, because private security guards at clubs are not generally constrained by the Fourth Amendment, a prosecutor can admit into evidence drugs that were obtained from a search by a private security guard that would have been inadmissible if performed by a police officer.

However, these club-search cases are very defensible in a number of ways. First, there can be serious chain of custody issues in these cases; a skilled defense attorney may be able to demonstrate that the private security guards failed to properly secure or keep track of the drugs once seized, or that they were intermingled with drugs seized from some other patron. In those cases, the prosecution may be unable to reliably attribute certain drugs to certain individuals, as required at a trial. Moreover, these private security guards often have not received nearly the same degree of training as police officers, and they also may not be as accustomed to being as diligent with respect to their paperwork. Accordingly, the credibility and reliability of the testimony of these bouncers and security guards may be very contestable at trial.

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A recent article in CNN declared that 60% of the cigarettes sold in New York had been smuggled in from out of state so as to avoid the onerous New York state cigarette taxes. This is somewhat unsurprising, given that New York state imposes a $4.35 tax per pack, and New York City an additional $1.50 (making some packs as expensive as $12 each). Indeed, New York state’s cigarette taxes are the highest in the country; in contrast, Missouri imposes a tax of just 17 cents per pack.

Prosecutors have taken notice and are pursuing traffickers of untaxed cigarettes. For example, the Queens District Attorney’s Office recently announced an arrest of a major trafficker of untaxed cigarettes. The applicable criminal statute for smugglers and traffickers of untaxed cigarettes is New York State Tax Law § 1814, which can apply either Class A misdemeanor or Class E felony charges to the conduct.

New York State Tax Law § 1814 states:

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Despite the improvements in drug-detecting technology and processes – as well as the steep criminal penalties for those caught importing drugs into the United States – the drug smuggling business still remains lucrative enough to cause many people to attempt to import drugs through commercial airline flights. When smugglers are caught, however, the cases can be prosecuted either federally or at the state level.

In New York and New Jersey, when drugs are discovered in someone's luggage, for example, the subsequent arrest might be referred to either the local District Attorney's Office (the Queens DA for LaGuardia and JFK) or to the nearest U.S. Attorney's Office (the US Attorney for the Eastern District of NY for the New York airports, or the US Attorney for the District of New Jersey for Newark Airport). In the former case, the matter will be prosecuted under state law, and in the latter, under federal law. We find in our experience that arrestees on incoming flights from abroad tend to be referred more often to the federal authorities, whereas domestic flights usually go to the local authorities, but this is certainly not always the case.

Under New York state law, the applicable charge is contained in Penal Law Chapter 220 and depends both on the type of illegal substance being smuggled and the quantity possessed. In addition, a person's charges can be more serious if there is evidence of an "intent to sell" the narcotics; obviously, a large quantity of narcotics can be evidence of such an intent to sell, but possession of a small quantity of narcotics – even just one small bag – can still be prosecuted as an "intent to sell" felony in cases in which, for example, the arrestee admits that he intended to sell the drugs in his possession.

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photo (2)Many of our clients come to us after being issued Desk Appearance Tickets (“DAT”‘s) charging them with cocaine or other drug possession (the charge is usually “Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree” in violation of Penal Law section 220.03). Most of these clients have just experienced their first arrest and are scared and embarrassed, not only because they’ve been handcuffed and detained for several hours, but because they are currently facing prosecution for a class “A” misdemeanor. The two pressing questions these clients usually have are: “what is going to happen to me” and “am I going to have a permanent mark on my record?” The answer to these questions depends on a variety of factors including the specific facts of the case and the client’s prior arrest history. Obviously, the first step for any person in this situation is to hire a lawyer who is experienced in handling these types of cases so as to avoid incurring any negative marks.

The first inquiry judges and prosecutors tend to make pertains to whether or not this is the client’s first arrest. A person who walks into court with no record will be in a better position to have their case “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal”, meaning the case will be dismissed and then sealed after a period of six months, assuming the client sustains no new arrests during that time. Client’s who receive such adjournments (“ACD”s) are usually required to complete community service or some form of drug treatment. A key benefit to an “ACD” is that there is no allocution (factual admission of guilt) and at the end of the six months the case is dismissed – rendering the arrest and prosecution a nullity. While this is obviously an ideal situation, clients who come into court on their second or third arrests will be less likely to receive such a favorable disposition in their case, and more aggressive steps will need to be taken in order to achieve the same goals. In addition to highlighting a client’s lack of/minimal criminal record, it is also helpful for an attorney to gather information about the client’s employment status, educational background, and any other relevant indicia of good character in order to persuade the judge or prosecutor that the client is deserving of a non-criminal disposition. The important thing to keep in mind is that the facts of every case are different. It’s up to your lawyer to highlight the relevant positive factors when making a solid pitch in order to secure the best positive outcome in any case.

If you or someone you know has been arrested or issued a desk appearance ticket, contact an experienced criminal lawyer immediately and set up a consultation so that you can adequately prepare your defense.

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