Westchester County Bans Texting While Driving

December 30, 2008 by Mark Siesel

Westchester County has enacted Local Law 12, 2008, which makes it illegal to compose, read, or send text messages while operating any type of motor vehicle, including automobiles, trucks, vans, and construction vehicles. The law will take effect on March 10, 2009. This is certainly welcome news to those of us (this writer included) who have had to swerve their car out of the path of a wayward driver who appears to be either texting someone or checking his or her messages or e-mails.

The New York State Assembly has been considering legislation banning drivers from sending or reading text messages after a tragic June, 2007 accident in which five teenage girls were killed in a head on collision with a tractor-trailer in Rochester, New York. The investigation of the accident established that text messages were sent and received from the 17 year old driver's cell phone just seconds before the fatal accident in New York.

Westchester Local Law 12 is entitled "Use of Wireless Handsets to Compose, Read or Send Text Messages While Operating a Motor Vehicle" and states as follows:

No person shall use a wireless handset to compose, read or send text messages while operating a motor vehicle on any public street or public highway within the County of Westchester. Cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDA's), and other portable electronic or computing devices capable of transmitting data in the form of a text message are considered "wireless handsets." A violation of the law is punishable by a fine not exceeding $150.00 for each violation. Exempt from the law are law enforcement officers, EMT's, fire safety officials in the course of their duties, and people who are contacting police, EMT's or fire safety officers, or persons using a wireless handset in a vehicle which is stopped or parked, and is removed from the flow of traffic.

If New York joins New Jersey, California and Washington State in enacting a statewide ban on texting while driving, the Westchester law will become null and void.

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Brancato Found Not Guilty In Bronx County Murder Trial

December 23, 2008 by Mark Siesel

Lillo Brancato Jr., the 32 year old actor known for his roles in the movie "A Bronx Tale" and in the T.V. series the "Sopranos", was found not guilty of a Bronx County second degree murder charge and weapons possession on December 22, 2008. Brancato was accused of felony murder in the December 10, 2005 fatal shooting of off duty police officer Daniel Enchautegui, who confronted Brancato and his friend Steve Armento as they were breaking in to the apartment of an alleged friend of Brancato's to get drugs.

Officer Enchautegui, sleeping next door, was awakened by the breaking glass, and confronted Armento and Brancato. In the ensuing shootout, Armento shot Officer Enchautegui in the chest with a .357 caliber handgun, killing him. Armento was convicted of the first degree murder of Officer Enchautegui in a separate trial, and was sentenced earlier this month to life in prison without parole.

Brancato was convicted of attempted burglary, which is a Class C felony under the Penal Law of New York State, and carries a minimum sentence of 3 years. However, Brancato has been incarcerated since the shooting three years ago, and may get credit for time served. He is due in Court for sentencing by Judge Martin Marcus on January 9, 2009.

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New York Traffic Violations-Benefits Of Defensive Driving Class

December 13, 2008 by Mark Siesel

As most drivers in New York know, if you get 11 points on your driver's license due to traffic tickets in New York, your license will be suspended and you will not be permitted to operate a vehicle in the State of New York. The key is how many points you accumulate over an 18 month period. After the 18 months have passed, any points you have on your record will be removed.

What if you have 8 points on your license, for example, and you have just been pulled over for going 80 in a 55 mph zone? If convicted on a New York speeding ticket doing 25 miles over the speed limit, this is a 6 point violation, and the 14 points you now have on your license (the 8 previous points plus the 6 points you were just assessed) will lead to a suspension. What do you do?

The answer is to take the Defensive Driving Class, given throughout New York State. By taking the class, which can be done in one six hour session, or two weekly classes of three hours each, 4 points will come off of your driver's license, and you will now be down to 10 points--still at a risk of having your license suspended, but just under the 11 point level.

It is important to mention that you should not take the class too soon! Inotherwords, if you have just received a ticket, and want to ensure that the points from that ticket come off your license, make sure you wait until the ticket has been resolved by a trial or plea to the charge. We have had clients who took the class immediately upon receiving a ticket, and received no benefit as there were no points on their license to be removed, and point removal only works backward, not forward. If you have no points on your license yet, and you take the class, the 4 point reduction is wasted.

The other major benefit from taking the Defensive Driver class is that in almost all cases, you will receive a 10% reduction on your insurance premium. So it's a win-win all around!

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New York Jet's Defensive Lineman Charged With Marijuana Possession

December 8, 2008 by Mark Siesel

New York Jets Defensive Captain Shaun Ellis has been charged with marijuana possession, driving without insurance and speeding in Hanover Township, New Jersey. On November 30th, Ellis was driving on Route 287 South at approximately 8:30 AM when he allegedly approached a police cruiser at high speed, passed the vehicle, and was pulled over for speeding. When Hanover Township troopers searched the vehicle, they found an unspecified amount of marijuana, and determined that Mr. Ellis did not have proof of insurance for his vehicle.

Mr. Ellis has issued an apology to Jets fans and the organization through a Jets spokesman, stating that he has "to be responsible for my actions." Ellis is a 9 year veteran and played in the 2003 Pro Bowl. The Jets have not stated whether they intend to take any disciplinary action against Ellis, noting that the matter will be handled by the NFL, who could suspend Ellis.

Had Ellis been arrested on a New York marijuana possession charge, under article 221 of the New York Penal law, if he were found guilty, the range of penalties is from up to three months in jail for possession of 25 grams (a class B misdemeanor) to a maximum of a 15 year jail sentence if the amount of marijuana was 10 pounds or more (C felony pursuant to Penal Law Section 221.30).

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New York Illegal Weapons Charge For Giant's Star Burress

December 5, 2008 by Mark Siesel

New York Giants star wide receiver Plaxico Burress is in serious legal jeopardy, facing two counts of illegal weapons possession in New York which could land him in prison for a minimum of 3 1/2 years. This past Saturday, Burress went to the Latin Quarter nightclub in Manhattan, accompanied by teammates Antonio Pierce and Ahmad Bradshaw. At approximately 1:00 AM, when security guards questioned whether Burress had a weapon, Burress reached for his .40 caliber Glock and accidentally shot himself in the right thigh. He was treated at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital for his injuries and released.

On December 1st, Mr. Burress was booked, handcuffed and arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on two counts of illegal weapons possession, pursuant to Section 265 of the New York Penal Law. Apparently, Mr. Burress did not have a permit for the Glock semiautomatic pistol. Burress was released after posting $100,000 bail, and is due back in Court on March 31, 2009. The Giants have suspended Burress without pay, fined him and placed him on the reserve list for a non-football injury, effectively ending his season and in all likelihood, his career with the Giants.

Interestingly, had this incident occurred just two years ago, New York judges had the option of not imposing any jail time on defendants found guilty of illegal possession of a loaded firearm. However, due to pressure from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others, in November of 2006, Governor Pataki signed into law a provision which made illegal possession of a firearm the legal equivalent of robbery or burglary, a C felony that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three and a half years. In the wake of the shooting death of Washington Redskins star defensive back Sean Taylor last year, and the recent robbery of fellow Giants receiver Steven Smith at gunpoint last week, it is probably not surprising that some players feel the need to arm themselves, but this will not aid Burress' defense in this case.

According to John Caher of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, 986 people were arrested last year on the same charges as Burress was, and 90 percent ended up convicted of less serious crimes, including 50% which resulted in misdemeanors or violations.

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Michael Vick Pleads Guilty To Virginia Dogfighting Charge

December 1, 2008 by Mark Siesel

Former NFL star quarterback Michael Vick pled guilty last week to a Virginia dog fighting charge, and received a three year suspended sentence, much less than the maximum of 10 years he could have been assessed. One count of cruelty to animals was dropped under the plea deal. Mr. Vick arrived in Court in Sussex, Virginia wearing wrist and ankle shackles along with his gray suit. He apologized to the Court, his family and the fans who had looked up to him as a role model during his years as a star quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons.

Vick is already serving a 23 month sentence in Leavenworth, Kansas on a 2007 federal conviction of bankrolling a dog fighting operation at his home in Surry County, near Richmond, Virginia. He is scheduled to be released on July 20, 2009, and then will start his three years of probation. The Falcons owner, Arthur Blank, has stated definitively that Vick will never play for the Falcons again. It is unclear if any other NFL team would take a chance on Mr. Vick, especially with all the dog lovers around the United States.

Had Vick been convicted of dog fighting in New York on similar evidence, under the Agriculture & Markets Law, he would have been looking at a felony with up to four years in prison and a fine of potentially $25,000. And New York dog fighting spectators beware--if you bet on dog fighting in New York, you can go to jail for up to one year and/or be fined $1,000.00!

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