Articles Posted in Narcotics and Controlled Substance Offenses

Published on:

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
Published on:

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.

Published on:

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)

Published on:

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.)

Published on:

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.

Published on:

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:

Published on:

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.

Published on:

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.

Published on:

In response to the growing number of criminal incidents involving individuals under the influence of bath salts, both Houses of Congress passed S.3187, which President Obama signed off on shortly thereafter in July 2012. Subtitle D specifically places a federal ban on the use, possession, or manufacturing of synthetic drugs, that up until recently were sold legally in stores. The compounds mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) – both contained in what are commonly known as bath salts – were two of the roughly thirty known compounds newly classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. In addition, the law bans other compounds that could potentially be produced in the future, or have been created, but are not currently being used by manufacturers.

Are bath salts illegal in New York State?

Yes, although bath salts were once legally sold in stores, this is no longer the case; Gov. Cuomo recently passed legislation adding the ingredients found in bath salts to Schedule I of the Public Health Law. Under New York state law, there are five Schedules of controlled substances (contained in Public Health Law § 3306), and all of the controlled substances listed therein are illegal to possess without a prescription. Some of the typical ingredients used in bath salts now fall under Schedule I, with methylendioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) being one ingredient in particular and mephedrone being another. Notably, even if the ingredient used is not expressly listed in the Public Health Law under § 3306, under § 3306(a) it states that: “Schedule I shall consist of the drugs and other substances, by whatever official name, common or usual name, chemical name, or brand name, listed in this section.” Moreover, someone who unlawfully possesses a controlled substance in New York is probably subject to prosecution for some violation of Penal Law Chapter 220. Thus, a possessor of a controlled substance containing a banned ingredient cannot avoid criminal prosecution by claiming that the “street name” of his contraband is not specifically mentioned in the Public Health Law.

Published on:

photo-2-150x150
As former prosecutors who now practice criminal defense, we have collectively dealt with hundreds upon hundreds of drug cases over the years. Throughout these years each of us has seen people from all backgrounds and professions walk through the courtroom doors to face drug charges. Whether the person is arrested and “put through the system,” or issued a desk appearance ticket (“D.A.T.”) to return to court on a later date, the experience can be a harrowing one and the consequences can be embarrassing and even devastating to one’s career and/or family life. The silver lining is that there are things that a lawyer can do to dampen the blow of a drug arrest and minimize the detrimental consequences it may have on your life, both personal and professional. This blog deals with cases involving small amounts of cocaine (other posts deal with more serious felony and weight charges) but it is important to remember that no matter how small the amount of any drug, so long as there is enough of the substance for the NYPD to test, a charge for drug possession will stick. What may appear to you to be residue may still be enough for law enforcement to pin a misdemeanor on you.

First, a look at the applicable statue for misdemeanor drug offenses – if you have been issued a D.A.T. for simple drug possession, this is most likely the charge that you face:

S 220.03 Criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree.

Contact Information