Articles Posted in Understanding New York Criminal Law

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Between 2007 and 2016, over 58,000 unruly passenger incidents were reported on International aircraft in-flight by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In 2016, the rate was one incident for every 1.424 flights. The majority of reports were Level 1 incidents which are verbal in nature and can usually be dealt with to a successful conclusion by crew using de-escalation training. 12% of reports relate to Level 2 incidents which involve physical aggression to others or damage to the aircraft. Intoxication from alcohol or drugs was identified as a factor in 33% of reported cases. Unruly passenger incidents include violence against crew and other passengers, harassment, verbal abuse, smoking, failure to follow safety instructions and other forms of riotous behavior. Recently, a woman was removed from a Frontier Airlines flight when she attempted to fly with her “emotional support” squirrel and then refused to get off the plane when she was told rodents, including squirrels, are not allowed on Frontier flights. Frontier, like many airlines, has a policy on emotional support and trained service animals allowing cats, dogs and miniature horses. Federal regulations do permit them on airplanes but give the airlines permission to turn away unusual animals, like squirrels. The passenger was advised of the policy and asked to deplane, but when she declined, other passengers were forced to deplane so that authorities could remove the woman from the aircraft.

Although such acts are committed by a tiny minority of passengers, they have a disproportionate impact, create inconvenience, threaten the safety and security of other passengers and crew, and lead to significant operational disruption and costs for airlines. The aircraft cabin is a unique space and it is necessary to recognize the limitations that exist when you are flying in the air in a metal tub. As a result, these sorts of in-flight disturbances frequently result in law enforcement officers becoming involved.

One of the likely reasons for the increasing reports of disruptive passengers is the existence of a gap in international law and the fact that many countries don’t apply their laws to foreign aircraft arriving on their soil. Passenger behavior is subject to the law of the country the plane is registered in. The passengers responsible often walk away and victims of violence can’t always take practical legal actions. Yet, American Federal law bans passengers from interfering with flight crew. Also, certain acts which would be punishable if they occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, defined in 18 U.S.C. § 7, are made criminal under 49 U.S.C. § 46506(1) (formerly 49 U.S.C. App. § 1472(k)(1)) if they occur within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.

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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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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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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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Under New York state law, there are three degrees of rape, with Rape in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.35) being the most serious (a Class B violent felony). Rape in the Third Degree (Penal Law 130.25), however, may be the most common criminal charge, and it can be brought in three different ways.

Per the statute: “A person is guilty of Rape in the Third Degree when: 1. He or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person who is incapable of consent by reason of some factor other than being less than seventeen years old; 2. Being twenty-one years old or more, he or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person less than seventeen years old; or 3. He or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person without such person’s consent where such lack of consent is by reason of some factor other than incapacity to consent.”

Subsection 2 is the most common charge, which involves a criminal charge being brought against an older person (21 years old or older) and a complainant younger than 17. Notably, this charge can be brought against the will of the younger party, meaning that it is not necessary for the complainant to “press charges” for the older person to be convicted. Sometimes these charges are proven without the testimony of the younger party by medical evidence or pregnancy, third party witnesses (who catch and observe the people in the act of sexual intercourse), or admissions by the older party.

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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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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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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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A significant percentage of police reports and lawsuits alleging sexual abuse involve people accusing co-workers of having committed the offense. However, unlike complaints involving sexual abuse allegedly committed by strangers or acqutainances, these sorts of matters tend to take a more circuitous route through the court system (if they even arrive there at all). Individuals accused of sexually assault or harassing co-workers face a host of complicated issues, and need experienced attorneys wholly devoted to defending their interests and future.

Thorough investigation of these cases is the key to success. Individuals that allege that they have been assaulted or harassed by co-workers frequently (perhaps, typically) report the incident to management before they contact the police or plaintiffs' attorneys. One of the keys to defeating these allegations is by highlighting the inconsistencies in the reports. Accordingly, determining what exactly the accuser said to management – as well as to other co-workers – about the alleged incident can be crucial to undercutting the allegations later brought in a police complaint or lawsuit. Significant inconsistencies can be devastating to the complaining witness' credibility and must be uncovered as soon as possible.

Plaintiffs also oftentimes threaten to file police reports unless their civil settlement demands are met by the accused individuals or their employers. A skillful and trusted advocate may be able to pre-emptively undermine the credibility of such a plaintiff by communicating with the prosecutor after the criminal complaint has been made but before an arrest has been authorized. Matthew Galluzzo is a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor and understands some of the concerns and reservations that prosecutors sometimes have about civil plaintiffs in this arena, and has the respect of many prosecutors specializing in this area of investigation.

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Arrests for thefts from employers

Our attorneys have defended many individuals arrested for allegedly stealing from their employers. Many of them were responsible for their employers’ payrolls and were accused of writing fraudulent or fictitious checks. Others were accused of concealing personal purchases or transfers of money using company bank accounts or corporate credit cards.

When confronted by an employer in this situation, individuals should understand that anything they say to their employers can be used by law enforcement against them in later criminal prosecutions. Many people accused of stealing from their employers face a unique dilemma. Sometimes, an individual in this situation may be able to avoid having his or her employer report him or her to the police by repaying the allegedly stolen money. Of course, returning stolen money (or agreeing to do so) conversely also tends to prove that the money was, in fact, stolen. Thus, an offer to repay the money may help avoid a suspected embezzler avoid arrest, but if it fails to persuade the employer not to complain to the police, that offer to repay the money will make it very difficult to avoid a criminal conviction at trial. Thus, offering to repay the money is a risky move for a person in this situation, and can backfire. Sadly, some people agree to repay money that they didn't even steal, or agree to repay more than they actually took, and then get arrested and find themselves in very difficult and unfortunate situations.