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Refusing to take a chemical test in New York can come with very serious consequences.  For example, a motorist who refuses a properly requested best-dwi-attybadgebreath test can have his or her license revoked for a minimum period of one year even if they beat the DWI case.  If a person has prior alcohol related incidents, the period of revocation can be much longer, even life.  Fortunately, before revoking a license because of an alleged refusal, the motorist is entitled to some level of due process.  In New York this requires that the Department of Motor Vehicles hold a hearing to determine whether the motorists’ license will be revoked.  In New York the criminal case, the DWI, and the refusal follow two different tracks.  The DWI is handled in Court while the refusal goes to a hearing before an administrative law judge that works for DMV.  In addition, the burden of proof is lower in refusal hearings.

Last week, Tilem & Associates Partner Peter Tilem conducted  a “refusal hearing” in the New York and beat the refusal. That means that the police did not sustain their burden of proving the elements necessary to revoke the license and the matter was dismissed by the DMV administrative law judge. This particular motorist was charged with both DWI and had the refusal.  He had two prior convictions for Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol (DWAI) and either a conviction in the DWI case (including a conviction for a reduced DWAI) or a finding that he refused could have resulted in a lifetime revocation of his New York driving privileges. Thankfully, after an almost one hour cross-examination of the police officer the DMV judge dismissed the refusal.

At a New York DWI Refusal hearing the police must establish 4 separate elements in order to win the refusal hearing.

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Experienced DWI attorneys understand the potential errors associated with breath test machines even when calibrated and functioning properly. ignition-interlock However, recently a New Jersey State Police Sergeant assigned as a coordinator in the Alcohol Drug Testing unit has been arrested for skipping a step in the recalibration of breath test machines and falsifying records to certify that he performed the required check.  Specifically, the Sergeant is alleged to have skipped the temperature check while re-calibrating the machines and then falsely certifying that he performed the check.  The Sergeant was responsible for calibrating breathalyzers in Middlesex, Ocean, Monmouth, Union and  Somerset counties over a period of seven years and State officials have identified well over 20,000 DWI cases that could be affected by this arrest.  This arrest comes on the heels of a Police lab technician having been accused of faking a test in a Marijuana case last December.  That disclosure put into question almost 15,ooo cases.

The issue with breath tests is even more acute than drug cases because generally the police do keep the drugs that were tested for a period of time even after a conviction and so those drugs are available to be retested.  However, when you give a breath sample, no part of the sample is maintained for retesting and therefore the momentary reading from the breath machine plays a crucial part in the case.  In addition, in most drug cases the issue is the presence or absence of a controlled substance and the total weight of the substance.  The concentration of the controlled substance in the sample does not matter.  In DWI cases, however, small differences in the percentage of alcohol detected in a breath sample can have a huge impact on the outcome of a case and can in fact impact whether charges are brought or not.

The issue of calibration goes to the heart of the accuracy of these devices and goes to the heart of the accuracy of what is often the key evidence in DWI cases.  For example, body temperature can affect the breath reading and as experienced DWI lawyers understand a person with a fever can have an artificially high read on a breath test.  Therefore, of course, the temperature of the simulation solution during a re-calibration can be critical. The problem is compounded by the substantial weight given to the results of these machines by prosecutors, courts and even jurors and at the same time manufacturers of breath machines attempt to keep the inner workings of these machines a secret, treating the inner workings of the machine as a trade secret.

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As New York Criminal Defense lawyers we are constantly called about expunging old New York Criminal records and over the many years I have been in practice it has been frustrating to inform people whose lives have been forever altered by an old New York criminal conviction that there was no mechanism to seal or expunge a criminal conviction in New York.  In the past we have offered half measures such as certificates of relief from civil disabilities or certificates of good conduct.  However, great news has arrived.  Beginning in October 2017 the New New York Criminal Procedure Law 160.59 will go into effect permitting a motion to be made to seal up to two criminal convictions including one felony.  This is welcome news for anyone whose professional life is being held back by a past mistake.Records_MAIN-300x200-300x200

New York Criminal Procedure Law provides for sealing of up to two criminal convictions and up to one felony.  Convictions for violent felony offenses, homicides, sex offenses and any conviction that requires SORA (Sex Offender Registration) are ineligible for sealing as well as conspiracy of attempts to commit ineligible crimes.  In order to qualify for sealing the applicant must not have been convicted of a crime in the preceding 10 years and any time spent in prison or jail in that 10 year period is added back into the 10 years.  For example if a person served 5 years in prison after a conviction they would need to wait 15 years before they could apply for sealing under CPL 160.59.

Procedurally, CPL 160.59 sealing requires that an application be made to the Court.  For a person sealing more than one conviction the sealing application must be brought in the Court where the most serious conviction took place.  The application must include a copy of Certificate of Disposition for each conviction (or an explanation of why one could not be obtained) and a sworn statement of the person seeking sealing that sets forth the convictions for which sealing is sought, whether other applications have been brought for sealing, and the reasons why the person is seeking the sealing.  The application must also include any other sealing applications that have been filed.  The entire package must be served on the District Attorney’s Office in the County in which sealing is sought.

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In a  recent NRA-ILA article about the Stossel documentary that the NRA Institute for Legislative Action suggests supports the need for national concealed carry  reciprocity, Tilem & Associates senior partner Peter H. Tilem was quoted and described as a criminal lawyer who represents tourists accused of “innocently violating New York’s gun control laws. ”  The Stossel Documentary can be seen here.

Mr. Tilem regularly represents those who travel from other States with firearms and who get arrested for violating New York’s draconian and complex gun laws.  The John Stossel documentary was based on the story of two of Mr. Tilem’s clients who were arrested at Queens, New York airports one with a gun and one with a magazine which New York law calls a high-capacity ammunition feeding device.

The NRA-ILA article goes on to describe the Stossel documentary in some depth including describing the stories of the two tourists from Georgia who were arrested and the interviews of Mr. Tilem and and Mr. Ryan, the Chief Assistant District Attorney in Queens who is in charge of the prosecution of these cases.  Both Laguardia and Kennedy airports, two of the busiest airports in the country are located within the jurisdiction of the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

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As experienced New York Criminal Trial lawyers we understand the risks and potential hazards of going to trial as well as the uncertainty associated with any criminal trial.  However, in a recent felony trial that we conducted in Westchester County Court charging six counts of felony assault, some evidence surprised even the most seasoned people in the courthouse and the verdict, finding the client not guilty on the four most serious assault charges and only guilty on two less serious charges, also surprised many.

The Felony Assault charges included two counts each of Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer, Assault in the First Degree and Assault on a Police Officer and all stemmed from an incident where the motorist as he was stopped at a type of roadblock put the car in reverse and dragged a police officer for some distance and struck another police officer standing near the car.  It was undisputed that both police officers were very seriously injured and it is also undisputed that two years later one police officer has not yet been able to return to work as a police officer.

At the roadblock were three police officers; the two that were seriously injured and a third who immediately took control of the crime scene.  On day one of the trial, the police officer at the scene who was not injured took the stand and identified “crime scene” photos that show that the police sergeant  who was dragged lost a lot of his equipment as the car sped in reverse with the Sergeant stuck under the driver’s side door.  The Officer at the scene was showed and identified both photographs of the scene where the equipment was found and the actual equipment which included a flashlight, handcuffs and a magazine pouch.

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New York law firm Tilem & Associates has filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the New York State DMV based upon the DMV policy of instituting a lifetime revocation against certain drivers who have multiple alcohol related driving incidents.  Although the policy was previously upheld in Court the revocation policy as it pertains to drivers who have had a Certificate of Good Conduct or a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities issued to them is illegal and violated several provisions of New York State Law according to the lawsuit.

In 2012 the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles changed its regulations to institute a lifetime ban on what DMV termed “persistently dangerous drivers.” The term persistently dangerous driver applies to drivers who have three alcohol (or drug) related driving offenses and another serious driving offense in a 25 year period.  The new regulations have been challenged in Court and have been repeatedly upheld by Courts throughout New York State.  However, the new Court challenge relates to an individual with 4 alcohol related driving offenses including two felony DWI cases and a state prison sentence of 2-6 years in prison but who had a Certificate of Good Conduct issued to him by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.  Specifically, the Certificate of Good Conduct “provides relief from forfeitures, disabilities or bars to employment and licensing automatically imposed by New York State law as a result of his conviction.”

Certificates of Good Conduct and Certificates of Relief from Civil Disabilities are defined under the New York State Correction Law §703-a and §703 respectively and after a thorough investigation permit the Court or Parole Board to create a presumption of rehabilitation.  Moreover, New York State Correction Law §752 specifically prohibits the denial of a license based upon a previous conviction or based upon lack of good moral conduct if either a Certificate of Good Conduct or Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities is issued.  New York State Correction Law §752 does set out two exceptions to that general rule.

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NY License PlateIn a recent New York court opinion, the court analyzed whether a police officer can enter a license plate into a government database to check for any suspensions, outstanding violations, and the registration of the vehicle without first developing any suspicion that the vehicle was engaged in criminal activity. More specifically, the court ruled that this review of the license plate information does not constitute a search.  Given the fact that many modern police cars are equipped with license plate readers and fixed license plate readers are becoming more commonplace, the issue is of paramount importance.

The facts of the case that gave rise to this opinion are as follows. In 2014, a police officer saw a vehicle drive past him. The vehicle was operated by the defendant. During the eventual trial on the matter, the officer stated that he did not see the vehicle engaging in any traffic violations or otherwise erratic behaviors. The police officer entered the vehicle’s license plate into his computer system, which was linked to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The analysis indicated that the registration for the vehicle was suspended due to outstanding parking tickets. The officer then initiated a stop of the vehicle. During that stop, the officer conducted a database search of the defendant’s driver’s license and discovered that his license was also suspended. Ultimately, the officer initiated an arrest of the defendant for driving while intoxicated as well as for operating a vehicle with a suspended license and registration.

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As New York Gun Lawyers we are aware that New York has a ban on possessing firearms magazines that are capable of containing more than 10 rounds. However, not everyone is as aware of the gun laws as they should be and this week two different cases in two opposite ends of New York State demonstrated how serious these cases are and how the right representation can make all of this difference in the world.

As was widely reported in the paper last week (see another article here) a former Army veteran who spent more than 9 years in the army was convicted of three felonies in Niagra County in far western New York, after he was found to be in possession of three magazines for a Glock 9mm handgun. Each of the magazines was capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The Army veteran did not possess any firearm, only the magazines. He is awaiting sentencing in two months according to the reports and faces up to 21 years in prison.

Meanwhile, in far Northern New York, on the same day that the veteran was convicted a man was being arrested and charged for bringing two handguns that were illegal in New York along with two high capacity ammunition feeding devices across the Canadian border in New York. This man possessed both the firearms and the high capacity magazines, also for a Glock pistol (albeit for a different model). Within a period of a week, the individual in Northern New York had the gun charges dismissed and had the high capacity magazine charges reduced to two counts of disorderly conduct. He paid fines totaling $500 a state mandated surcharge of $125 and the record of the arrest and conviction were sealed.

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As very experienced New York DWI Attorneys we are often asked to assist other attorneys on complex DWI cases.  Recently, that request paid off for the attorney and his client after all charges related to a Rockland County DWI were dismissed.   In November Tilem & Associates was hired to take the lead in a suppression hearing for a client who was facing DWI charges and who was not being offered any plea bargain.  We had sought the suppression of statements and breath that we asserted were taken illegally from our client after he was illegally taken out of his car.

At the suppression hearing, one police officer testified.  The officer claimed that in response to a 911 call the officer responded to a location and saw our client in a vehicle that matched the description given to the 911 operator.  On cross-examination, by me, the officer admitted that at the time the officer approached the vehicle and removed the driver from the vehicle that there was no reason to believe that the motorist had committed any offense other than a parking violation for parking on the line in a parking lot.  The officer claimed that the motorist was asleep in the vehicle and tried to justify further action as a “welfare check” to ensure that the motorist was ok.  However after responding that he was ok, I attacked the officers continued investigation, including: removing the motorist from the vehicle, bringing the motorist to the back of the vehicle, questioned the motorist, conducted standardized field sobriety tests and detained the motorists while other witnesses were questioned.  The Judge ruled that all of those actions exceeded the authority that the officer had at the the time of incident.

As we have discussed extensively in the past, in a case called People v. Debour, New York’s highest Court recognized four different levels of intrusion that police officers may have based on the police officers level of suspicion.  The lowest level, level one, the right to inquire, gives the police officer very limited authority to make inquiries about a person.  Such inquiries may not be pointed or accusatory in nature.  In the case in Rockland County, the Judge correctly ruled that the police officers authority capped at Debour level one there by only giving the officer the very limited right to inquire. Therefore, all of the statements and other evidence derived after that illegal conduct were suppressed, leaving no evidence and therefore no provable case.

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As New York firearms lawyers we think it is important to keep the public updated on possible significant changes to New York gun laws. The idea of national concealed carry reciprocity is not a new idea but it is an idea that may be close to becoming law. The theory is very simple. If a driver’s license, which has been held by the Courts to be a privilege not a right, is valid in all 50 States than why isn’t a license to carry a gun, which has been held by the Courts to be right not a privilege, also valid in all 50 States. While different versions of the bill have been introduced in varying forms in Congress since at least 2008, President-Elect Trump has expressed an interest in signing such legislation.

Currently HR 923 entitled Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2015 has 121 cosponsors. The Companion bill in the Senate of the same name has 35 cosponsors.

The issue is how will New York law, which is notoriously hostile to gun owners, interact with a National Concealed Carry law. According to the Congressional Research Service HR 923 can be summarized as follows: “[HR 923 a]mends the federal criminal code to authorize a person who is not prohibited from possessing, transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm under federal law, who is entitled and not prohibited from carrying a concealed firearm in his or her state of residence or who is carrying a valid state license or permit to carry a concealed weapon, and who is carrying a government-issued photographic identification document, to carry a concealed handgun (which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, other than a machine gun or destructive device) in any state in accordance with the restrictions of that state. [And,]