Articles Posted in Legal Terms Defined

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The National Firearm Act of 1934 (commonly known as the “NFA”) was the first federal gun control act and for the first time created a national registry of purchasers of “Machine guns”, “sawed-off shotguns” and “silencers”.  In addition, a $200 tax is imposed on each transfer of any NFA item and waiting periods can be long.

However, with the recent introduction of innovative new guns and technology that seem to have effectively circumvented the NFA, is the NFA still a useful law?

More than two years ago, we wrote about a new and innovative “shotgun” that has since taken the forearms world by storm.  Originally introduced as the Mossberg Shockwave and then the Remington Tac-14, these shotguns came with a standard 14 inch barrel and an overall length of just over 26 inches.  The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) had examined samples of these firearms and determined that these were legal under the NFA for reasons discussed at greater length in our article about these firearms.

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The concept of jury nullification is an important concept for experienced criminal defense lawyers to understand.  As a by product of our system of justice, a jury has the power to acquit even those who have had the charges poven against them.  This is a fact, largely kept secret from the public and not sanctioned by the Courts. In People v. Goetz, the Court of Appeals stated:  “While there is nothing to prevent a petit jury from acquitting although finding that the prosecution has proven its case, this so-called mercy-dispensing power,’ . . . is not a legally sanctioned function of the jury and should not be encouraged by the court.”

Jury nullification is when the jury ignores the law because it believes that its application in a specific case is unjust. Essentially, a jury who nullifies believes that the defendant was guilty of the crimes he was charged with, but that convicting him under the specific circumstances would not be in the interest of justice. Jury nullification is not an official part of the criminal law, and in some jurisdictions attorneys who advance a nullification theory to the jury can be sanctioned by the court for violating the profession’s ethical code. Indeed, a defense attorney cannot explicitly request the jury nullify, and if she chooses a nullification strategy, she must go about it subtly.

In June, a state appellate court issued an interesting opinion in a New York burglary case discussing whether an attorney’s strategy to argue for jury nullification constituted effective representation. The court concluded that, given the facts of the case, the chosen jury-nullification strategy was appropriate and a potentially effective defense to the crimes charged. Thus, the court upheld the defendant’s conviction.

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Recently, a state court issued an opinion in a New York gun case discussing the importance that police follow protocol when conducting identification procedures after the commission of a crime. The case illustrates the concept that an improperly performed identification procedure can be unduly suggestive, making any identification that was made by the crime victim inadmissible.

After police receive a report of a crime and locate a suspect, there are a number of different ways in which detectives can administer an identification procedure. Below is a list of a few common identification procedures:

  • Line-Up: In a line-up, the suspect (also called the “prime”) is lined up among several fillers, and the witness, who is often behind two-way glass, is asked if they recognize the person who committed the offense.
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New York criminal law does not, generally speaking, attach criminal liability to actions that are not accompanied by the requisite level of “guilty knowledge,” or mens rea. Thus, most New York crimes are broken down into at least two elements, the “act” element, and the “knowledge” or “intent” element. Even when a New York criminal statute does not specify that a certain level of knowledge or intent is required, courts will read in such a requirement. Possessory offenses are an excellent example of how this principle is applied by the courts.

A possessory offense is one in which the “act” element of the crime is fulfilled merely by possessing a prohibited object. New York drug and gun crimes are common examples of possessory crimes. For example, under New York Consolidated Laws Article 265, “a person is guilty of criminal possession of a firearm when he or she … possesses any firearm.”

At first glance, the wording of the statute would seem to indicate that anyone who has a weapon in their possession, regardless of whether they know they possess it, is guilty of the offense. However, criminal law disfavors this type of strict liability. Thus, courts generally require that a defendant knowingly possess a firearm before imposing criminal liability. It is important to note that the term “knowingly” goes to the object itself, and not the prohibited nature of the object. For example, a defendant who knowingly possesses a weapon but does not know that it is illegal to possess the weapon will be found to have “possessed” the illegal weapon.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York aggravated assault case requiring the court to discuss the “depraved indifference” sub-section of the New York aggravated assault statute. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the prosecution failed to establish that the defendant’s mindset at the time of the commission of the crime met the requirement of showing a “depraved indifference for human life.”

Assault in the First Degree

In New York, there are several sub-sections under which someone can be charged with aggravated assault. Sub-section § 120.10(3) states that “a person is guilty of assault in the first degree when … [u]nder circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, [the defendant] recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes serious physical injury to another person.”

The Facts of the Case

The complaining witness lived with the defendant. One day, the defendant called the complaining witness’s mother, explaining that the complaining witness was acting odd and banging her head against the wall. Over the course of the next few weeks, several people visited the complaining witness’s residence, suggesting that the defendant take her in to get medical treatment. The defendant explained he was hesitant because he did not want to be blamed for her injuries.

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When it comes to New York assault cases, or homicides there are a number of  defenses that someone charged with the offense can assert. An affirmative defense is a defense which the person accused of a crime has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence.  A defense, on the other hand must be disproved by the prosecution, beyond a reasonable doubt.  One of the most common defenses in New York aggravated assault cases is that of self-defense or as its called in New York Justification.  Justification is a defense that must be disproved by the prosecution.

In New York, NY Penal Law 35.15 governs self-defense claims. The statute also includes a defense for those acting in the defense of others. Specifically, that statute requires that the actor possess an honest and reasonable belief that they are facing unlawful physical force, or an imminent threat of unlawful physical force.

The statute thus creates two essential elements of a New York self-defense claim. First, the actor was subject to unlawful force, or the actor honestly had a fear that they were about to face unlawful force. However, even if the actor believes this to be the case, the statute also requires that their belief be a “reasonable” one. This introduces an objective element into the claim, essentially asking the judge or jury to determine whether the defendant’s fears were reasonable under the circumstances.

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New York criminal lawyers understand that a conspiracy to commit a crime requires that the defendant agree with one or more other person to commit the crime.  Earlier this month, New York’s highest court issued a written opinion in a New York criminal case involving allegations that the defendant was guilty of committing conspiracy in the second degree. The case required the court to review the defendant’s actions leading up to the crime and determine if they constituted a conspiracy and tested the minimum limits of acceptable proof to establish a New York conspiracy. Finding that the defendant’s mere presence at the scene of gang meet-ups was insufficient to establish a conspiracy to commit a crime, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Conspiracy in New York Courts

In New York, when more than one person work together to commit a crime, they can each be held individually liable for the ultimate result. Thus, even if someone has only a minor role in the planning or execution of a crime, that defendant can be punished as though he committed the crime on his own.

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New York’s new sealing law which authorizes the sealing of up to one felony conviction and two total convictions went into effect in New York last week and is already creating new possibilities for those with old criminal convictions.  Up until recently a New York expungement law would be considered to be almost impossible.  After all as experienced criminal defense lawyers there is rarely a week that goes by without a call from someone asking about “expunging” criminal convictions and we as attorneys were frustrated with what used to be the answer; that there was no way of sealing old criminal convictions in New York.

Like all the uncertainty surrounding all new laws no one really knows how impactful CPL 160.59  will be.  One factor will be whether prosecutors routinely oppose applications to seal under CPL 160.59 or not.  The other will be what types of hearings are used by the Court and lastly how generous will the Courts be in sealing old convictions.

Another question pertains to the use of prior alcohol related driving convictions to deny people driver’s licenses.  The New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is currently applying a twenty-five year look back and denying those with three or more alcohol related driving convictions reinstatement of their driver’s licenses.  These revocations are essentially turning into lifetime revocations.  As we reported last month, our firm has already filed a lawsuit against DMV because we believe that prior DWI convictions cannot be used to deny people licenses if the Court (or the Department of Corrections)  has issued a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.

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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.

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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As New York Firearms Lawyers we are often asked about the legality of certain specific guns in New York given the very complex laws about what firearms may be owned in New York.  A relatively new pair of firearms present some very interesting legal issues given the current state of New York Law and just may fit into a loophole under existing New York gun laws.

Mossberg Shockwave

The Mossberg Shockwave is a gun that has a barrel length of just over 14 inches and is a smooth bore (no rifling).  Its overall length is just over 26 inches and it has a magazine capacity of 5.  The shockwave is pump action and is fitted with a grip that appears to be a pistol grip that Mossberg refers to as a bird’s head pistol grip.