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As Second Amendment attorney Peter H. Tilem reported in a blog on April 24, 2016, New York and New Jersey’s outright ban on stun guns and tasers were unconstitutional.  stungunNow today, a Federal District Judge in upstate New York confirmed that opinion and enjoined the New York State Police from enforcing New York Penal Law sec 265.01 (1) as it applies to “Electronic Dart Guns” and “Electronic Stun Guns.”  The case entitled Avitabile v. Beach was decided earlier today by US District Judge David N. Hurd of the United States District Court for the Northern District in New York.  While the case is not necessarily binding in New York City, the case applies the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Caetano v. Massachusetts, which struck down the Massachusetts state ban on stun guns.

The issue actually began with the famous Second Amendment Case of Heller which was decided in 2008.  In knocking out a ban on handguns in Washington DC, the US Supreme Court in Heller ruled that the Second Amendment applied to “bearable” arms.  The Caetano decision, in knocking down a stun gun conviction in Massachusetts, made it very clear that a stun gun was a bearable arm as that term was used in Heller.

Besides being illegal, bans on stun guns and tasers are inherently illogical.  All states permit the possession of handguns to a degree.  Even New Jersey and New York City which effectively ban the possession of handguns outside the home, permit handgun possession in the home, with the appropriate license (in New York).  However, prior to today’s ruling, New York and New Jersey have a complete and total ban on the civilian possession of stun guns and tasers which are non-lethal.  This complete and total ban includes both possession inside the home and outside the home and does not even permit possession with a license.

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As this blog has discussed on several occasions, New York law provides that evidence which is obtained in violation of a person’s constitutional or statutory rights cannot be admitted in a criminal trial against that person. Most often, a motion to suppress evidence refers to physical evidence such as a gun or drugs or confessions or statements made by the person arrested. However, in many cases involving charges of burglary, robbery, or other offenses in which identification may be an issue, there may be a valid motion to suppress the identification of the defendant.

Identification can be an issue in any New York criminal trial. However, identification issues are most common in New York theft crimes. After a crime is committed, police will conduct an investigation. This includes visiting the scene of the alleged crime and interviewing witnesses. While questioning a witness, a police officer may obtain information that leads them to another witness, who the officer will then interview, and so on. This may eventually lead to an arrest, at which point there may be a formal or informal identification conducted.

There are various types of identification procedures. Which procedure a police officer or detective uses depends largely on the type of crime, the nature of the information leading up to the identification, and the time that has elapsed between the alleged crime and the identification. A few examples of identification procedures include:

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Evidence of someone’s prior acts is generally not admissible in a New York criminal trial. However, under The Guide to New York Evidence Sec. 4.21, evidence of past “crimes, wrongs, or other acts” may be admissible under certain limited situations.

Rule 4.21 specifically prohibits the introduction of prior-act evidence when it is being used to show that the defendant acted in conformity with that act, or if it is being used to show that a person had a propensity to act in a certain way. However, when the evidence is being offered for other reasons, such as to show someone’s motive, intent, opportunity, preparation, the existence of a common plan or scheme, knowledge, identity, or to establish the absence of a mistake, the evidence may be admitted if it is more probative than prejudicial.

Judges are left with the discretion to determine if prior-act evidence should be admitted. In a recent New York domestic violence case, an appellate court discussed Rule 4.21 and its application.

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Generally speaking, hearsay evidence is not permitted to be considered by the jury in a New York criminal trial. However, there are certain exceptions where a hearsay statement may be properly admitted.hearsay-clipart-canstock18050425

What Is Hearsay?

The concept of hearsay can be complex to grasp, but essentially a hearsay statement is one that was made by a party who is not present to testify in court. A statement is only hearsay if it is testimonial, meaning it is being used for “proof of the matter asserted.” Thus, if the statement is not being used to prove that which was said, it will not be considered hearsay.

Why Is Hearsay Prohibited?

The rationale for the hearsay exclusion is based on the fact that the party who made the statement is not in court to explain what was meant and is not subject to cross-examination. For example, sarcasm may not come across when a statement is relayed at a later date through a third party. In criminal trials, there is also the concern that the person making the statement cannot be cross-examined, depriving the defendant of their confrontation rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Constitution.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York DWI case raising the issue of whether a trial court can require a defendant to pay for the costs of a device that is used to measure the defendant’s alcohol intake. Ultimately, the court concluded that requiring a defendant to pay these costs is permissible; however, a court must attempt to fashion a “reasonable alternative to incarceration” for those defendants who legitimately cannot afford the costs.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was convicted of a New York driving while intoxicated offense. As a result, he was sentenced to six months’ incarceration, to be followed by a term of probation. As a condition of the defendant’s probation, the court ordered the defendant to wear and pay for a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) bracelet.

Evidently, the defendant made a few payments for the bracelet but then stopped paying. The company that monitored the bracelet eventually removed it. The defendant claimed that he had suffered an injury that prevented him from working, and that he could no longer afford to pay for the bracelet. The court held a hearing, finding the defendant in violation of a condition of his probation and sentenced him to one to three years in jail.

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The New York State Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), has added a very serious consequence to the commission of many crimes.  The requirements of SORA apply to both New York State convictions and to conviction from other states, if the convicted person is or becomes a New York resident.  Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a case discussing whether a defendant who was convicted for the murder of his 13-year-old sister in Virginia was required to register under the New York State Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA). Ultimately, the court concluded that registration was not required based on the fact that the defendant was not required to register as a “sex offender” in Virginia.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was convicted for the murder of his 13-year-old sister in Virginia back in 1989. It was undisputed that there was no sexual element involved in the killing. However, as a result of that conviction, the defendant was required to register for life under Virginia’s Crimes Against Minors Registry Act, which required registration for numerous offenses, including some that were not sexual in nature.

After serving his sentence, the defendant moved to New York. Upon arriving, the Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders was notified and required the defendant to register as a Level III offender. The defendant challenged the registration requirement.

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A police officer cannot stop a pedestrian or motorist for just any reason. New York criminal law requires that an officer possesses reasonable suspicion before initiating a pedestrian stop or motor-vehicle stop. Specifically, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that “a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed.” An officer’s reasonable suspicion cannot rest on a “hunch,” and must be supported by articulable facts.

In a recent New York gun crime case, a state appellate court issued an opinion discussing the concept of reasonable suspicion and whether the officer that arrested the defendant for a gun while on a public bus possessed such suspicion when he asked the defendant if he had a gun. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer did possess a reasonable suspicion and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, police officers responded to a call for a shooting. Upon arrival, police located a gun-shot victim, who described the alleged shooter as a male wearing all black clothing, including a black hoodie. The victim also told the officers that the alleged shooter got on a bus at a nearby stop.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York forgery case discussing whether concert and sport event tickets can fall within the statute governing criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree. Ultimately, the court concluded that tickets to concerts or sporting events affect the possessor’s legal rights, and therefore fall within the statute. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s convictions. If you have questions about any aspect of criminal law, it is crucial to reach out to a New York criminal defense attorney to get answers.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested in possession of counterfeit concert tickets. Subsequently, he was arrested again for counterfeit sporting event tickets. In each case, the defendant was charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree which is described in New York Statutes section 170.10. Under that statute, a person is prohibited from falsely making, completing, or altering a written instrument with the intent to defraud another. This prohibition applies to deeds, wills, contracts, and any “other instrument which [impacts] a legal right, interest, obligation or status.”

The defendant argued that the tickets were merely revocable licenses and that they did not affect a holder’s legal rights. He also argued that a concert ticket or ticket to a sporting event was nothing like the other items listed in the statute, and thus were not intended to be covered by the statute. The defendant’s argument was rejected by the trial court, and he subsequently entered a guilty plea to the charges. On appeal, the defendant argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, essentially making the same argument as he did at trial.

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The issue of whether a statement taken by New York CPS workers after a defendant had been arrested in a related criminal case and the defendant’s right to counsel had attached, was recently discussed by a New York Appellate Court.  After police make an arrest, they will often bring the arrestee in for questioning. What is said during this questioning can be crucial. Therefore, before questioning someone about their involvement in a crime, police must read the arrestee specific warnings. These warnings – often called the Miranda warnings – explain the rights of the arrestee. Notably, these include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

If a statement is taken by a law enforcement official in the absence of these warnings, the statement may be inadmissible in court because it was taken in violation of the defendant’s rights. However, only statements made during “custodial interrogation” by a law enforcement official require miranda warnings.   A recent New York assault case illustrates the limits of a defendant’s rights to be free from questioning by a government employee who is not a non-law enforcement official.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was charged with several assault charges stemming from a December 2014 incident in which he was alleged to have struck the mother of his child with a crowbar. At the time of the alleged offense, the defendant’s six-year-old child was present.

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Recently, a New York state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing the concept of constructive possession as well as the state’s “automobile presumption.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the jury’s verdict finding that the defendant possessed the gun was supported by the evidence and that the lower court’s instruction to the jury was appropriate under the circumstances.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, during routine patrol police officers observed a van with a missing tail light and initiated a traffic stop. The van did not stop, and sped away. Police officers followed the van and watched as a black object was thrown out of the rear passenger door. The officers continued to follow the van until it stopped, at which point an unidentified man ran from the van. The defendant exited the van and was arrested by police. Police later went back to obtain the object that was discarded from the van, and discovered that it was a shotgun. A shotgun shell was found during a search of the vehicle.

The case proceeded to trial, and at the conclusion of the evidence the court instructed the jury on the automobile presumption, which states that the presence of a gun inside a vehicle is presumed to belong to each person inside the vehicle unless the vehicle was stolen or the weapon was found on one of the occupants. The automobile presumption is an application of a legal theory called “constructive possession” which allows a jury to infer a defendant possessed an object based on the surrounding facts.

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