Articles Posted in Recent Court Decisions

Filing an appeal is one of the most critical steps in a New York criminal defendant’s attempt to avoid serious penalties and incarceration. In most instances, an appeal follows a trial and sentencing. New York appeals generally involve a defendant making a pleading to the appellate court to issue a motion for retrial, resentencing, or overturning a ruling. New York criminal defendants do not possess the same rights during appeals as they do at trial. As such, criminal defendants should consult with an experienced New York criminal defense attorney to develop the best course of action.

In most cases, New York criminal defendants appeal their cases based on more than one issue. Appeals may stem from improper police investigations, incorrect legal decisions, or other constitutional claims. Multiple appeal issues often present complicated statutory and procedural issues. In these cases, courts may wholly affirm the trial court’s ruling, partially affirm, or entirely overturn the lower court’s ruling.

For instance, a New York criminal defendant recently appealed a judgment from a trial court where he was convicted of two counts of murder in the second degree, two counts of attempted murder in the second degree, three counts of robbery in the first degree, two counts of assault in the first degree, attempted assault, and seven counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. The case arose from incidents over a two-month span where two men were killed, and three others suffered injuries. The court affirmed the majority of the trial court’s ruling but partially agreed with the defendant’s assertions regarding the admissibility of his statements to the police.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun case discussing the concept of an inventory search. An inventory search is a type of search, usually conducted by police officers or tow-truck drivers, that is performed to determine what is in a vehicle before the searching party takes control of the vehicle. The purpose of an inventory search is to identify what is inside a vehicle, to limit the possible liability should a dispute later arise about something in the vehicle coming up missing. Inventory searches are only permissible when conducted for a non-investigatory purpose.

The Facts of the Case

The court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the case was brief. However, it appears that the defendant was arrested after he had parked his car “on the corner.” The court’s opinion does not explain what the initial arrest was for. However, after the defendant was arrested, police officers decided to impound the defendant’s vehicle. Before impounding the vehicle, police searched the car, finding a weapon.

Lawmakers draft criminal statutes very intentionally, and every word in a law should have meaning. Thus, when courts are tasked with determining whether certain conduct falls within the scope of a criminal law, the first place the court looks is to the language contained in the statute itself.

In some cases, reading a statute and coming to a conclusion is not a difficult task. However, other situations present circumstances that the drafters of the law may not have thought of when they wrote the law. The court, then, must decide what the legislature’s intention was, and whether the facts in front of the court fit within the statute.

A good example of this is a recent New York theft case, in which the defendant was charged with grand larceny in the fourth degree. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was a personal assistant to the alleged victim. As the woman’s personal assistant, the defendant had access to her corporate credit card information and her Uber account information.

It’s common knowledge that you can be prosecuted for a New York gun crime if police officers find a gun on you. But what about if the police find a gun in the car you are riding in? Or if they find a gun in your home or hotel room? In these situations, the doctrine of constructive possession comes into play.

Constructive possession is a legal concept by which a court can find that a person had “control” over an item, even though the object was not in that person’s physical possession at the time. In a recent New York gun case, the court was tasked with determining whether the defendant could be found guilty of possession although the gun was not found on his person.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers got a call that a person was bleeding in front of a residence. When police officers got to the scene, they saw the defendant outside. He was bleeding from the neck. The defendant told police that he was inside his home, when he was shot through a window.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun case, affirming the lower court’s decision to suppress a weapon found in the defendant’s vehicle that was parked outside his home. The case required the court to determine if the officers’ search of the defendant’s car fell outside the scope of the search warrant police officers obtained after allegedly observing him sell heroin from his home.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers conducted a stake-out in front of the defendant’s home. During the course of their investigation, officers watched on several occasions as the defendant or one of his associates would leave the home and deliver an item to someone standing in the street in exchange for money. Police officers also arranged to make several controlled buys.

Detectives obtained a search warrant. The affidavit in support of the warrant requested the officers be allowed to search the defendant and “the entire premises.” Police officers executed the search warrant and found a gun inside the home. However, someone other than the defendant was charged with the gun found inside the home.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case involving a police officer’s search of the defendant’s car. In a pre-trial motion to defendant argued that the officers lacked probable cause to stop his car, which ultimately led to his arrest. However, the court determined that the traffic stop was valid.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, at around 1 a.m., police officers observed the defendant driving a car without a working headlight. Police pulled over the defendant’s vehicle, at which point they smelled marijuana. The officers asked for the defendant’s information, which he provided to them. However, the officers discovered that the defendant had an open arrest warrant. The officers also saw an expandable baton in plain view.

As the officers were processing the defendant, he asked what was taking so long. The officers responded that they were waiting for the K-9 Unit to search the car. The defendant responded, “you can do that all you want, whatever’s in the car, the car’s not registered to me, my prints aren’t on it.” The police then obtained a search warrant and found a gun inside the car.

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The United States and New York constitutions provide certain rights to citizens. Among these protections include the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally, police officers need to obtain a warrant to conduct a search. However, there are certain situations where a police officer’s actions are not considered a “search” under the law. In a recent New York burglary case, the court discusses one such situation, called an “inventory search.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer attempted to stop the defendant for expired registration. The defendant led the officer on a high-speed chase, before crashing into a marsh. The defendant’s vehicle was disabled, and police called a towing company to tow the car.

When the tow truck driver arrived on the scene, he searched through the car to take an inventory of what was inside. Tow truck companies do this to avoid potential liability, in case the owner of the vehicle later claims there was something of value that turned up missing after their vehicle was towed. The tow truck driver located several high-value tools.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York weapons case illustrating the importance of a detailed review of the evidence and effective cross-examination skills. The case involved a traffic stop during which police found a sawed-off shotgun wedged under the driver’s seat. Police also claim to have discovered a matching shotgun shell in the defendant’s pocket. However, because the evidence relied upon by the court did not match up with the testimony at the suppression hearing, the court reversed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers initiated a traffic stop after noticing that a vehicle’s license plate didn’t match up with the type of car in the police database. Video evidence of the stop—as well as officer testimony—established that the defendant, who was seated in the rear passenger seat, bent down to the left as the car was coming to a stop. Ultimately, police officers found a sawed-off shotgun under the driver’s seat (near where the defendant was seen bending down) and a matching shotgun shell in the defendant’s pocket.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that the officers lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to search the vehicle. The trial court rejected the defense motion, finding that the officers conducted a limited pat-down of the defendant for their own safety, at which point they found the shotgun shell. According to the court, this gave the officers probable cause to search the rest of the vehicle, at which point they found the shotgun.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York hit-and-run case, discussing the defendant’s claim that his statement was taken in violation of his constitutional rights. However, the court rejected the defendant’s issue on appeal, noting that the requirements of Miranda were not implicated because the defendant was not in “custody” when detectives questioned him.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a dark-colored pick-up truck hit a pedestrian and then fled the scene. The detective learned that the defendant had a vehicle matching the description, and went to the defendant’s home to speak with him. The detective explained that he was investigating an accident, and that the defendant’s vehicle matched the description of the one that struck the pedestrian. The defendant allowed the detective to inspect his vehicle, at which point the detective noticed that one of the truck’s headlight assemblies was missing.

The detective then asked the defendant a few follow-up questions, including where he was on the night of the incident. The defendant explained that he was at a bar, and drove home on the road where the pedestrian was hit. The detective then asked to take a look inside the defendant’s home, and read the defendant his Miranda warnings. Ultimately, the defendant was charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

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On November 19, 2013, New York’s highest Court, the Court of Appeals, in the case of People of the State of New York v Richard Diaz, ruled that in felony criminal cases involving immigrant defendants, defendants must be advised that they face removal (previously known as deportation) if they plead guilty to the charge (generally any sentence which potentially could result in the defendant being imprisoned for at least one year or more in jail will result in removal when the sentence is served). In the Diaz action, Richard Diaz was a legal permanent resident from the Dominican Republic. He was arrested in October of 2006 when he and another man in a taxicab were found to have a two pound brick of cocaine during the course of a traffic stop. Mr. Diaz pled guilty to a reduced drug possession charge in exchange for a 2½ year prison sentence, but apparently Mr. Diaz’ lawyer and the Court failed to advise him that a plea to the drug possession charge would result in his removal from the United States when his sentence was completed.

When Mr. Diaz was released from jail, he was immediately picked up by “ICE”, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit, to remove him from the United States. In a 5-2 decision, written for the majority by Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the Court overturned a previous decision from 1995 in which it determined then that a defendant did not need to be warned of deportation because it was a “collateral consequence” of a guilty plea. Apparently, the driving factor behind the Court’s decision in Diaz was the changing times since the mid-1990’s, when 37,000 undocumented people were removed from the United States. Conversely, in 2011, 188,000 non-citizens were deported as the immigration laws have been more strictly enforced.

In her decision, Judge Abdus-Salaam stated that: “deportation constitutes such a substantial and unique consequence of a plea that it must be mentioned by the trial court to defendant as a matter of fundamental fairness.” Judge Abdus-Salaam also mentioned that defendants who take plea bargains lose their jobs, and are sent back to countries they haven’t lived in since their birth, with no family or friends there.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Padilla v. Kentucky (2010) that defense lawyers have a duty to inform their clients that they face removal before they agree to plead guilty to a felony. In practice, often the lower Court judges ignore this directive and in my experience, many defense attorneys either are not aware of this consequence or simply forget to consider it. In Mr. Diaz’s case, along with two others that were decided contemporaneously, the Court ruled that the defendants have a right to withdraw their guilty pleas, as their due process rights were violated. However, Mr. Diaz and the other defendants must prove that if they had been warned of the possibility of removal, they would have insisted on going to trial and not pleading guilty. Chances are very strong that Mr. Diaz will claim that he would have gone to trial and he will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

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