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A bill which would end the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and driver  responsibility assessments has past both the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate and is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Cuomo. The new law, if signed could impact millions of New Yorker’s who are currently suspended for unpaid fines and fees such as Driver Responsibility Assessments.  In the 26 months from January 2016 until April 2018 New York issued nearly 1.7 million suspensions for traffic debt.  The suspensions create a cycle that is hard to get out of since, often, those with suspended licenses, cannot work to pay the debts.

Driving with a suspended license that is suspended based upon unpaid fines or driver responsibility assessments can constitute anywhere from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on a number of factors and can have serious consequences including mandatory probation and/or jail.

Similar laws that prohibit suspensions based upon traffic debt have already been passed in at least 9 states including large states such as Texas and California as part of a national trend to stop punishing poverty by eliminating cash bail and terminating suspensions based upon unpaid debts.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York murder case involving the defendant’s challenge to the trial court’s substitution of a member of the jury. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the court failed to follow the proper procedure when determining the sitting juror’s unavailability.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant called 911 stating that he shot his brother. The defendant’s brother later died from his injuries, and the defendant was charged with murder and related charges.

The case proceeded to trial, and on the ninth day of trial, one of the jurors was absent. The juror explained that she had an important medical appointment for a family member. The court did not officially conduct a hearing into the juror’s absence and, without formally stating that the court was ordering the substitution, the court proceeded with an alternate juror. The court explained that it believed the juror mentioned the appointment during jury selection, however, that turned out not to be the case.

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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 year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York burglary case discussing whether the lower court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that police recovered from inside of his backpack. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers had a legal basis to pursue the defendant and that exigent circumstances justified the officers’ search of the pack.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, police officers received a call for a burglary in progress. Moments after police arrived on the scene, another call came in describing the perpetrator as a black male wearing a black hat, carrying a backpack and riding a bicycle. Two minutes later, police officers saw the defendant, who matched this description.

The defendant fled as police tried to stop him. Ultimately, the defendant fell off the bike and was detained. Moments later, the alleged victim came to the scene, shouting, “that’s him!” Police arrested the defendant and then noticed a backpack nearby. The officers opened the backpack, finding several of the alleged victim’s belongings inside.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York drug case discussing the validity of the search that resulted in the discovery of narcotics. The case required the court to discuss the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and whether they necessitated suppression of the evidence seized by police.

Police must follow the requirements of the United States and New York constitutions when investigating crime and making arrests. If they fail to do so, or otherwise violate a defendant’s rights, any evidence they obtain cannot be used against the defendant at trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was under investigation when he admitted to the police that he had synthetic cannabinoids in his home. Under New York law, the possession of synthetic cannabinoids was not illegal under criminal statutes, however, it was a violation of the State Sanitary Code. Relying on the defendant’s admission, police officers secured a search warrant to search the defendant’s home. Upon doing so, police recovered morphine tablets and brass knuckles, both of which are illegal to possess.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York burglary case involving the defendant’s motion to suppress the physical evidence that police recovered when they searched his pockets. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer lacked probable cause to conduct the search, and the defendant’s motion was granted.

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call reporting a burglary in which a resident reported $5,500 was stolen. About an hour after the call, an officer came upon the defendant, who matched the description given to police, which was a person “in dark clothing.” The officer approached and asked the defendant for his identification. Initially, the defendant turned and walked away, but later approached the officer. According to the officer, the defendant put his hands into his pockets. The officer asked the defendant to remove his hands and place them on his head, and the defendant complied. The officer then noticed bulges in each of the defendant’s pockets. The officer patted the defendant down, and could not discern what the bulges were, although he could tell they were not weapons. The officer then reached into the defendant’s pockets and removed a large amount of cash. The defendant was arrested and charged with burglary.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the cash, arguing that the police officer did not have probable cause to reach into his pockets. The lower court granted the defendant’s motion, and the prosecution appealed.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York assault case discussing the required elements of “assault in the first degree.” The case required the court to determine if the prosecution presented legally sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. The court ultimately held that the prosecution met its burden and upheld the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was involved in an altercation with two other men. During the altercation, the defendant allegedly struck both men in the head with a hard metal object. One of the men suffered serious injuries, and was transported to the hospital where he underwent a craniotomy and received 40 staples to close the injury to his head. A witness caught the entire incident on video.

The defendant was charged with assault in the first degree, attempted assault of the second degree, and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. At trial, a jury convicted the defendant and he was sentenced accordingly. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the evidence presented at trial was legally insufficient to sustain his conviction. He also claimed that there was insufficient evidence to prove that his actions were the cause of the victim’s injuries.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York burglary case involving the lower court’s decision that the defendant was not able to appeal his conviction. The case involved two separate burglaries, and the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that related to one of those burglaries.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer, acting on a tip, stopped the defendant based on suspicion that he was involved in a prior burglary. The officer asked the defendant to remove his hands from his pockets, noticing that the defendant had something in his hands. The officer asked the defendant to open his hands, and discovered that it was a small bag of jewelry. The defendant claimed he bought the jewelry from a nearby yard sale. However, when the officer took the defendant to the yard sale to confirm his story, the homeowner denied ever owning the jewelry. The defendant was eventually arrested for two prior burglaries.

The defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress, arguing that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop him. Because of this, the defendant claimed that the jewelry should have been suppressed. The court denied the defendant’s motion, and the defendant pleaded guilty to one count of burglary. Importantly, the count of burglary that the defendant pleaded guilty to was not the one related to the jewelry.

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New York Criminal Lawyers need to closely examine the immigration consequences of any plea by a non-citizen.  New York’s highest court recently decided a case in which it found that a lawful permanent resident could not vacate his conviction for failure to receive advice of potential immigration consequences because he was given a notice during his arraignment discussing the potential immigration consequences for non-citizen defendants. Under New York law, if a criminal defendant is not a U.S. citizen, a court must notify a defendant that “he or she may be deported as a consequence of a guilty plea to a felony.”

In the case before the New York Court of Appeals, the defendant was arrested and charged with burglary in the second degree in 2011. The defendant was born in the Dominican Republic but was a lawful permanent resident of the United States. During the defendant’s arraignment, the state filed a “Notice of Immigration Consequences” with the court and gave a copy to defense counsel. The notice stated in English and Spanish that if the defendant was not a U.S. citizen, a guilty plea, conviction after a trial, or youthful offender adjudication “subjects you to a risk that adverse consequences will by imposed on you by the United States immigration authorities,” including removal from the United States. The notice advised defendants to “consult with your attorney for advice specific to your circumstances.” The notice further advised that “deportable offenses” included “burglary, robbery, receipt of stolen property, or another other theft-related offense” deemed an aggravated felony under immigration law. It also stated that if the crime was an aggravated felony, or if you have not been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years with at least seven years’ continuous residency and the crime is a deportable offense, there would be additional consequences, including ineligibility for cancellation of removal.

Eight months later, the defendant pleaded guilty to attempted burglary in the second degree. During the plea colloquy and allocution, the court did not discuss potential immigration consequences and the defendant did not ask about potential immigration consequences. He was sentenced to five years of incarceration and three years of post-release supervision. Four years later, the defendant filed a motion under CPL 440.10 to vacate his conviction based his attorney’s failure to inform him of potential immigration consequences as a result of his plea. The defendant claimed that his attorney did not inform him of the effects of pleading guilty on his immigration status and that he was not told that he could lose his lawful permanent resident status.

Tilem & Associates, New York’s premier law firm for gun owners is pleased to announce the creation of a new pre-paid legal program, NY Tac Defense,  for New York gun owners which includes legal representation for self-defense Pre-Paid Legal services for gun ownerscases and red flag (ERPO) cases for enrolled clients.  Clients enrolled in the NY TAC DEFENSE can pay either a low monthly rate of $38.50 per month or can enroll in a discounted annual plan which is $385 for the year and is the equivalent of getting two months free.

Peter H. Tilem, the owner of Tilem & Associates, PC, spent 10 years in the New York County District Attorney’s Office where he was assigned to work on a variety of cases which included gun cases and homicides.  Since entering private practice Mr. Tilem has represented a large number of gun owners and has been involved in many justification or self-defense cases.

As of May 2018, several insurance programs, including NRA Carry Guard and a USCCA (United States Concealed Carry Association) program were being offered in New York but were subsequently alleged to be violating New York insurance regulations.  Both programs and others have since pulled out of the New York market.  The NY TAC Defense Program is a pre-paid legal product that allows clients to retain the firms services and pre-pay the legal services so that if they need to hire a lawyer for a self-defense shooting the client will not need to come up with a large lump sum retainer of $50,000 or more to retain a law firm.  It is not insurance and therefore does not indemnify against any losses.  It is simply an opportunity to retain a lawyer in advance.

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