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When courts determine a defendant’s sentence, one of the factors they consider is the defendant’s prior record. Typically, the more convictions a defendant has on their record, the harsher the penalty they can expect to receive.

New York lawmakers have prescribed an escalating punishment scheme for “second felony offenders.” Under New York Consolidated Laws § 70.06, a second felony offender is someone who has recently been convicted of a qualifying offense and has a qualifying predicate offense. The punishments for second felony offenders are mandatory, meaning a judge cannot exercise her discretion to impose a more lenient sentence, and are significantly increased over those for first-time felony offenders. A proficient New York criminal appeals attorney can break everything down further regarding the details of your specific case once you reach out to them.

When it comes to determining whether a previous conviction is a qualifying predicate offense, courts look both to the date of the sentence as well as the type of crime. In a recent case, a New York appellate court clarified that it the original date of sentencing that courts should look to when determining if someone qualifies as a second felony offender.

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When someone is arrested and charged with a serious New York crime, they are often subjected to pretrial incarceration. This may be because they are unable to afford bail on their new case, the Court held them without bail, or because they were on probation or parole at the time they were arrested for the new allegations. In any event, after being arrested and subsequently incarcerated, it is common for defendants to make several phone calls to friends, loved ones, and employers. These phone calls are recorded, and anyone charged with a New York crime should not discuss their case over the phone with anyone except their attorney.  These recorded phone calls have been increasingly used by prosecutors in New York as evidence in the criminal case.

A recent case issued by a New York appellate court held that a correctional facility does not violate a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights when it discloses the contents of an inmate’s phone conversations to the prosecution.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was facing charges of burglary and robbery, and was held at Rikers Island for eight months until his family was able to post bail. During his pretrial incarceration, the defendant made approximately 1,100 phone calls. At trial, the prosecution attempted to admit excerpts from four of those calls, containing incriminating statements. The defendant filed a motion to preclude the conversations from being admitted into evidence, arguing that their admission would violate his Fourth Amendment rights.

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Earlier this month, a court issued a written opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing the concept of constructive possession. Ultimately, the court concluded that the prosecution’s evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant exercised “dominion and control” over the weapon. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

The Concept of Constructive Possession

Under New York criminal law it is illegal to possess certain items, such as some types of guns or drugs. To establish criminal liability for a possessory offense, the prosecution must be able to present evidence showing that the defendant was in possession of the item. In this context, possession can be actual or constructive.

Actual possession is established when an object is found on the defendant. Constructive possession, on the other hand, refers to when an object is not in the defendant’s actual possession, but it can be said that the defendant “exercised dominion or control” over the object. For example, it is under a constructive possession theory that someone can be charged for a gun found in the trunk of a car.

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Self defense cases in New York can be particularly challenging and require a skilled and experienced attorney.  In New York self defense is referred to the defense of justification.  Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York assault case discussing the defense of justification. Ultimately, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction for assault in the first degree and ordered a new trial based on the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury appropriately.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested and charged with attempted murder and several assault charges after he “slashed his roommate across the neck and stabbed him in the abdomen with a large kitchen knife.” Apparently, the alleged assault occurred in the men’s apartment during a physical altercation.

Evidently, the defendant presented evidence suggesting that he was justified in his actions. It is unclear from the court’s opinion the exact nature of the justification defense, but it was most likely self-defense. At the conclusion of the evidence, the court instructed the jury on each of the charged offenses, as well as the defendant’s justification defense.

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As a general rule, police officers cannot enter a home without  a warrant. While exceptions do exist, they are somewhat rare and are better left for another blog post. Once a police officer obtains a search or arrest warrant, the officer must comply with all procedural guidelines governing the execution of warrants. If officers disobey these guidelines, any evidence seized as a result of the search or arrest may be deemed inadmissible by the court.  In addition, a defendant can challenge the issuance of the search warrant in certain circumstances.

One issue that frequently comes up is when police officers can forcefully enter a home to execute a search or arrest warrant. Generally speaking, if a valid warrant is issued, officers may approach the house named in the warrant and enter that home. However, under New York law, a police officer must first knock, announce their presence as police, and give the occupant an opportunity to answer before entering forcefully. This is known as the “knock and announce rule.”

New York Laws sections 690.50 (search warrants) and 120.80 (arrest warrants) provide for the specific procedures that must be followed when executing a warrant. Both statutes require an officer serving a warrant knock and announce their presence, and both statutes also contain exceptions when an officer is permitted to forcefully enter a home without first complying with the knock-and-announce rule.

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Earlier this month, a New York appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York assault case involving a motion to suppress the weapon that the defendant allegedly used to assault the complaining witness. The case required the court to discuss a police officer’s legal authority to approach a citizen to investigate a potential crime. Ultimately, the court found that each of the officers’ actions were justified, and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were in the area of a recent shooting when they saw the defendant and another man “huddling” together. Evidently, there were no other people out on the street around the two men, and the defendant’s hand was in his pocket.

The police were operating without a description of the alleged shooter, and continued to the location of the shooting. After arriving, the officers turned around and began to approach the two men whom they had just passed. As the officers approached, they started walking away at a “high rate of speed.” While the defendant and his companion were walking away from the officers, the officers watched as the defendant discarded an object into an alleyway. The police officers detained the defendant without arresting him while one of the officers went to see what the defendant discarded. Once it was determined that the defendant had dropped a gun, the police arrested the defendant.

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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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