Recently, the  New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court sided with a defendant who was originally charged with and convicted of harassment in the second degree. in a very important speedy trial case that keeps prosecutors honest about complying with New York discovery laws. After being found guilty, the defendant filed a speedy trial motion to dismiss, arguing that the prosecution incorrectly advised the court it was ready for trial before it had turned over all of the documents it was required to disclose as discovery. Ultimately, the court agreed with the defendant, granting his motion to dismiss.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, police officers first arrested the defendant in this case after he became physically aggressive toward his mom. The State charged him with harassment in the second degree, and the defendant pleaded not guilty. The court subsequently scheduled the case for trial several months down the line. Prior to trial, as is standard in New York courts, both the prosecution and the defense appeared for several hearings to report in on the progress of trial preparation.

Also, in the state of New York, the prosecution in a criminal case is always required to file something called a “certificate of compliance” with the court. This certificate advises the court that the prosecution has provided all of the necessary “discovery” to the defense, meaning all of the relevant documents that the defense has requested as part of the trial preparation.

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In the intricate landscape of New York criminal defense, felonies, as opposed to misdemeanors, stand out as serious offenses, and New York classifies them into distinct categories based on their severity. From Class A to Class E felonies, each level represents a different degree of criminal activity, carrying varying degrees of punishment. In this guide, we’ll delve into the different classes of felonies in New York, shedding light on their definitions and the potential consequences they entail.

Class A Felony:

We have discussed in past blogs how New York’s speedy trial statute can be effectively used in many criminal cases.  In a recent case coming out of a New York court, the defendant appealed convictions for three misdemeanor counts and three traffic infractions that had arisen in 2014. On appeal, the defendant argued that an amendment to New York’s speedy trial statute should apply retroactively; thus, he was entitled to a dismissal. The court of appeals considered the defendant’s argument but ultimately disagreed, explaining that the statute in question did not apply to the offense for which the defendant was seeking relief.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, approximately eight years ago, the defendant was criminally charged based on traffic violations. 17 months after being charged, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges based on a New York statute that guarantees defendants the right to a speedy trial. The statute includes provisions stating that if a defendant is subject to unreasonable delay because the prosecution is not ready for trial, that defendant can use this statute to argue for a dismissal. At the time of his motion to dismiss, however, the statute did not apply to defendants charged with traffic infractions. Thus, the defendant’s argument was unsuccessful.

In 2019, however, the legislature changed the language of the New York statute, explicitly including defendants charged with traffic infractions as individuals eligible for dismissal because of unreasonable prosecutorial delay. Upon hearing this news, the defendant again brought up this argument, stating that now he was in the class of people that could benefit from the statute. The court of appeals was thus faced with the decision of whether or not the defendant’s case could indeed be dismissed because of the statute.

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In a recent New York sexual abuse case, the defendant unsuccessfully argued that he had the right to a jury trial under the U.S. Constitution. After being charged with and several sex crimes, the defendant asked for a jury trial so that he could get a fair hearing before potentially being found guilty, and thus being found deportable back to his country of origin. Because the court of appeals disagreed with the defendant’s main argument, it ultimately denied the appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, an undercover police officer was standing on a train platform in June 2015 when he observed the defendant standing nearby. The defendant seemed to be masturbating, although the officer was not entirely certain what was happening at the time. A few minutes later, the defendant pushed himself onto a nearby woman, then ran away to board a train. Immediately, the defendant pushed himself onto a second woman.

The defendant was charged with two counts of forcible touching, two counts of sexual abuse, and one count of public lewdness. Because the defendant was not a U.S. citizen, he faced the threat of potential deportation if convicted of the crimes. The crimes were Class B misdemeanors, which means that the defendant did not have the right to a jury trial under state law – he could only secure a jury trial if the misdemeanors had been Class A.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York burglary case discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence of an identification made by a law enforcement officer. Ultimately, the court concluded that the procedures used by police to conduct the identification were “unduly suggestive,” agreeing with the defendant. Thus, the court reversed the lower court’s ruling, granted the defendant’s motion to suppress, and ordered a new trial. In the subsequent trial, the prosecution will not be permitted to use evidence of the complaining witness’s identification unless there is an independent source for the identification.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant was arrested for residential burglary. During the investigation, without prompting from the police, the complaining witness found a Facebook picture of the defendant and told police that’s who had burglarized their home. Based on this information, police officers located an old arrest photo of the defendant and asked the complaining witness if it was the same person. The complaining witness made a positive identification.

The defendant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the identification testimony, claiming it was unduly suggestive. The trial court disagreed, denying the defendant’s motion. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion on the basis that any suggestiveness in the identification procedure was not the result of any improper conduct of law enforcement. The defendant was convicted by a jury. He then appealed.

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A very close friend of mine who is a retired police officer wrote me a very interesting response to our last blog about whether it is lawful to handcuff a licensed gun owner while an officer verifies the validity and authenticity of a gun license.  I know this retired officer to be extremely pro Second Amendment and so it was so interesting to hear from an actual police officer who has had to deal with these issues.    The two main take-aways are, in my opinion, that there is a complete lack of training (or at least there was back then) on Second Amendment issues and so much of what happens on the street could be remedied if people (including officers) just act nicely and use their words.  I know this particular officer and I know that he is not a bully and rather is very good at obtaining compliance with his words.  As he points out, if he was a jack a$$, he probably would me in the law books also.  I have reprinted his comments below, verbatim except to remove identifying information.

I just read your post about the Connecticut incident. In my rookie year, I was sent to a house on a report of the homeowner mowing his grass while possessing a firearm in an open carry manner. The complaint was the next-door neighbor who had multiple disputes with the subject over the complainant’s dog.

One month prior, the dog got out and almost bit the man who was mowing the grass while he was unloading groceries from his car.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York Leaving the Scene of an Accident case which required the court to analyze whether a defendant’s statements that were elicited before he was given his Miranda warnings were admissible at trial. Ultimately, the court held that, because the defendant was not in custody when he made the statements, the detective interviewing him did not need to Mirandize the defendant. Thus, the statements were admissible and the defendant’s conviction was affirmed.

The Facts of the Case

According to the facts contained in the appellate opinion, a pedestrian was struck by a pickup truck in East Islip. Throughout the course of the investigation, the detective got a lead that the defendant had a pickup truck that matched the description of the one that hit the pedestrian.

The detective went to the defendant’s home. When the detective arrived, he told the defendant why he was there, and the defendant voluntarily answered a few preliminary questions. The defendant also agreed to let the detective check out his vehicle.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had an extraordinary impact on the lives of all Americans. It seems as though almost every aspect of life has changed, seemingly overnight. As New York Criminal Defense Lawyers we are very concerned about the impact on the New York criminal justice system. In the wake of the pandemic, New York courts all but shut down, hearing only emergency matters. This took a serious toll on the effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice system. Indeed, jury trials have been delayed for months, and courts are getting overwhelmed as new cases continue to come in. Even since courts have started to reopen, concerns around the effective administration of justice remain—chief among these being the ability to get a fair jury trial during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While all New Yorkers are hopeful that the worst of the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, New York is still struggling to return to a level of normalcy even as safety measures remain in place.  These safety measures can substantially interfere with a defendant’s due process rights and their ability to obtain a fair trial.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury and “to be confronted with the witnesses against him,” and “to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor.” However, each of these rights may be seriously hampered by the restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on the country and its ability to function. However, the effect of the pandemic was felt the hardest in New York City. As the number of new cases continues to decline, government functions are starting to resume. Of course, this includes New York criminal trials, which truly represent the backbone of our criminal justice system.

New York courts will need to deal with many challenges as they begin to hear more cases. The old way of doing things may no longer make sense, with jurors, defendants and supporters all crammed into crowded courthouses. Thus, judges, lawmakers, and court administration will need to come up with solutions to address these issues which are consistent with the constitutional mandate for a speedy and public jury trial.   It is critical that whatever new procedures are used, these procedures respect the constitutional rights of defendants.

One issue courts are wrestling with is how to handle live witness testimony. Many witnesses are already reluctant to take the stand and testify at trial. However, with the threat of COVID-19, even fewer witnesses will likely be willing to come to court. Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a rape case in which an expert witness was permitted to testify over two-way video. The case contains an interesting and important discussion of a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York criminal case involving a question as to whether statements that the defendant made to Pennsylvania state troopers could be used against him in his New York arson case. Ultimately, the court concluded that the Pennsylvania State Troopers questioned the defendant in violation of his right to counsel. Thus, the court held that the statements should have been suppressed.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was under investigation for several arsons in New York. After detectives interviewed the defendant about one of the fires, the defendant fled to Pennsylvania. A short time later, Pennsylvania State Troopers arrested the defendant for an alleged arson offense that allegedly occurred in Pennsylvania. The defendant requested that the court appoint counsel.

Upon hearing about the defendant’s arrest, New York police traveled to Pennsylvania to interview the defendant. While New York police did not actually interview the defendant, they observed as Pennsylvania State Troopers asked the defendant questions about the New York arsons without the presence of defense counsel. The defendant made several statements regarding the New York arsons.

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