One of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s programs since he took office last year is “Vision Zero”, which is designed to reduce traffic and pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries in New York City.  The Vision Zero program has already resulted in a reduction of the standard speed limit in the city from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour, the installation of additional red light cameras and traffic reconfiguration at dangerous intersections.

Another element of the program which is encountering some strong resistance, particularly from transportation unions, is a regulation designed to increase the penalties for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians crossing the street, resulting in fatalities or serious injuries.  This aspect of Vision Zero has come to the forefront recently after a tragic accident on February 13, 2015.  A fifteen year old girl walking to school was crossing Grand Street with a walk signal when she was struck by an MTA bus operated by Francisco DeJesus.  The young girl was pinned under the front wheel of the bus while Mr. DeJesus was making a left turn, and suffered serious left leg injuries.

Based on the new right of way law with enhanced penalties for pedestrian fatalities or serious injuries, a violation of the law is now classified as a misdemeanor, rather than a traffic ticket.  Drivers who are found to have violated the law can be sentenced to up to thirty days in jail and face fines of up to $250.00.  Mr. DeJesus was arrested for violating the failure to yield law, which his union, the Transportation Workers Union Local 100, feels is unfair.  They contend that DeJesus was not distracted by texting or using a cell phone, was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and was not driving recklessly. Rather, this was simply a tragic accident, due to a combination of the chaotic nature of making a left turn on city streets and the blind spots on a bus.

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The Wayne County, Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Office announced last week that there will be charges against a 15 year old driver and her father in a fatal car crash on August 30, 2014 on Goosepond Road in Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania. That fateful day, a 15 year old driver from Pleasantville, New York was allegedly given permission by her father, Michael Ware, to drive his 2001 Chevrolet Suburban to a diner for breakfast. In the vehicle were five other teenagers, including three Bucks County, Pennsylvania teens, Ryan Lesher, Shamus Digney, and Cullen Keffer, who were all killed in the accident when the underage driver was apparently going too fast and flipped the vehicle.   Another two teens, including the driver’s friend from Westchester County, NY, survived the horrific crash.

Witnesses allegedly heard some of the occupants screaming at the driver to slow down moments before the accident. When the police arrived at the scene, the driver is alleged to have exclaimed: “I was driving too fast, arrest me”, as she placed her hands in front of her, expecting to be handcuffed. The driver’s father, Michael Ware, 53, of Eastchester, New York, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony, endangering the welfare of children, and other crimes not yet identified. Ware was arraigned in the Wayne County Courthouse on December 17, 2014, and pled not guilty to all charges.

There is interesting evidentiary conflict in the versions of events as described by Mr. Ware, and his fifteen year old unlicensed daughter, with regard to his knowledge and consent for his daughter to operate the vehicle. Ware’s daughter, who is being charged for the deaths in juvenile Court, purportedly informed investigators that her father gave her permission to operate the vehicle at the time of the fatal crash, and on previous occasions, including earlier that morning when she drove to a local Dunkin Donuts. The daughter’s friend from Westchester County also told police that Mr. Ware walked the two girls to the car and placed an egg sandwich order before his teenage daughter drove off in the car.  However, Mr. Ware denies that he gave his daughter permission to operate the vehicle. Continue reading ›

On May 23, 1957, in the Cleveland home of future boxing promoter Don King, three police officers demanded to enter to search for a man who they believed had been involved in a recent bombing. The tenant of the home, Dollree Mapp, refused to admit the police without a warrant. The officers left and returned several hours later, forcing their way into the home. Ms. Mapp called an attorney and again insisted that the officers produce a search warrant. A struggle ensued between one officer and Ms. Mapp over a piece of paper which the officer claimed was a warrant. The battle over the unwarranted intrusion into Ms. Mapp’s premises ultimately led to the one of the most important constitutional cases in U.S. history. On October 31, 2014, although only reported last week in the New York Times, Ms. Mapp died at the age of 90 in Conyers, Georgia.

After entering the house under false pretenses, the officers searched and discovered some sexually explicit materials, including books and drawings, which Ms. Mapp indicated were the possessions of a previous tenant. Ms. Mapp was handcuffed and arrested on obscenity charges. She was later convicted and sentenced to four years in jail. Her conviction was upheld on appeal to an Ohio appellate Court.

The U.S Supreme Court decided to hear the case originally on First Amendment issues and questions regarding what constituted obscenity. However, when the case of Mapp v Ohio was heard in June of 1961, it took on much greater significance, and became one of the most important decisions in the history of the Court. The issue the Court focused on was the role of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Due to the fact that the prosecutors had never provided a proper search warrant or proved that it ever existed, Ms. Mapp’s conviction was overturned. The Court, in a 6-3 decision, and in extending what is known as the “exclusionary rule”, held that evidence obtained by illegal means, which was previously suppressed only in federal Courts, would now be excluded in state Courts as well. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Tom C. Clark declared: “The state, by admitting evidence unlawfully seized, serves to encourage disobedience to the federal Constitution which it is bound to uphold.”

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In 2013, there were 135,738 texting while driving tickets issued by New York State police officers. Of these tickets, 63% resulted in convictions or pleas of guilty. 26% of texting tickets ended up in a conviction for a violation other than for texting. 10% of texting tickets were dismissed for various reasons, including failure to prosecute, meaning that the officer was not available to testify or did not witness the violation.

At present, a texting while driving ticket or for using a hand held cell phone results in five points on the operator’s license. This is a substantial increase from three years ago, when a conviction of texting while driving or hand held cell phone use would result in 2 points in the operator’s license. 11 points in an 18 month period will lead to the suspension of the driver’s license, and 6 points in 18 months will result in a $300.00 Driver’s Responsibility Assessment (Thank you Governor Pataki), which must be paid in 3 annual installments or all at once. If not paid, this will also cause a suspended license.

Due to the increase in penalties for texting and cell phone infractions, drivers are hiring attorneys more frequently to fight these tickets. The conviction rate for these tickets was 72% in 2012 and 63% in 2013.  As a result, more texting tickets are being reduced to a lower charge, which is the reverse of what the New York State Legislature intended when it increased the penalties for the infractions. However, in the New York City Parking Violation Bureau Courts (Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island), there are no negotiations on moving violations, and the only possibilities are either fight the ticket and win, or plead guilty/lose at trial and have five points assessed. The only way to win these tickets is to have proof that at the time of the infraction, you were not on the phone (through cell phone records), or a witness who can establish that the phone was not being used at the time of the ticket. This is quite different than in the local Courts in Westchester, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Dutchess counties, in which these tickets will often be reduced in plea bargaining, although not always. Continue reading ›

On November 1, 2014, New York State increased the penalties and fines for drivers who stubbornly continue to drive while texting. Prior to 2011, texting and driving was a secondary violation in New York, meaning that a motorist who was caught driving and texting could not be issued a traffic infraction for this conduct unless he or she was also committing another traffic violation, such as speeding, following too closely or disregarding a traffic control device. Recognizing the dangerousness of texting while driving, the New York State legislature strengthened the law three years ago, making texting and driving a primary infraction with no requirement for another moving violation to be found guilty of the infraction.

Continuing in this vein, the points that are assessed on the drivers’ license for a texting and driving infraction have increased since 2011 from 2, to 3, and now the violation results in a five point assessment due to a strengthening of the law in 2013. The five points is also imposed if the motorist is using a hand held device to make a call, check or send emails, or use the device in any other way. Eleven points within an 18 month period leads to a suspended license, and 6 points in that period will result in a “Driver’s Responsibility Assessment” of $300.00, which must be paid in three annual installments or all at once to avoid a suspension.

Under the new texting law, a first time conviction or plea of guilty to a texting while driving offense for a driver under the age of 21 results in a 120 day suspension of their junior license. If the youthful driver commits a second violation within 6 months of being reinstated, he or she will be looking at a one year license or permit revocation. Fines have also been increased under the tougher new regulation. The maximum fine for a first time offense is now $200.00, increased from $150.00. A second offense committed within 18 months of the first will now carry a maximum fine of $250.00, up from $200.00. A third offense will lead to a maximum fine of $450.00, an increase of $50.00.

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In an article in the NY Times on October 14, 2014, a study published in Law and Human Behavior concludes that teenagers ages 13-17 frequently do not exercise their legal rights to remain silent in police interrogations across the country. The study analyzed 57 videotaped interrogations. None of the subjects had an attorney, and were permitted to leave the room without making any statements if they chose.

The average age of the subjects was 15, and in half of the cases, the interrogator had a weapon. In 16% of the cases, the teenager was in shackles or handcuffed. 12 subjects were accompanied by their parents. The interviews ranged from six minutes to five hours, with the average interview lasting 45 minutes. 37% of the teens gave complete confessions and 31% made statements which were incriminating. It appears that none of the teenagers recognized that they had constitutional rights which they could exercise to terminate the interrogation. Some seemed unconcerned, slept, paced or made light of the circumstances.

Federal statistics reveal that 1.5 million teenagers were arrested in 2011, the last year for which data is available. Confessions can be very persuasive to jurors, yet how reliable is a teenager’s confession when he or she has not been advised of his or her rights and is feeling pressure to respond to questions by an authority figure? Studies show that adolescents tend to think more about the present, and less about long term consequences than adults. Additionally, teenagers may not realize that police officers sometimes lie during interrogations, including suggesting “facts” which they claim to know, which may not be true.

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Jo John John, 36, the man at the wheel of the boat which crashed into barges near the Tappan Zee Bridge last summer, killing two, was sentenced in Rockland County Court on September 16, 2014 to two years in jail.  John pled guilty earlier this year to vehicular manslaughter in the deaths of 30 year old Mark Lennon, of Pearl River, New York, and 30 year old Lindsey Stewart, of Piermont, NY, which occurred on July 26, 2013.  Stewart was to be married one month later to Brian Bond, who was injured in the tragic crash.  Mr. John apologized to the Stewart and Lennon families at his sentencing before receiving the two year sentence, which spares him the possibility of serving time in state prison.

Blood alcohol results revealed that Mr. John had a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) in excess of 0.15% at the time of the fatal accident, almost two times the legal limit of 0.08%.  However, Mr. John, the family members of Mr. Lennon and Ms. Stewart, and other passengers on the boat who were injured but survived, contend that poorly lit barges used in the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge were equally, if not more responsible for the tragic accident and have all commenced civil lawsuits against the New York State Thruway Authority.

These family members, including Ray Lennon, the brother of Mark Lennon, have called the sentencing of Mr. John “incomplete justice”, and have urged Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe to bring criminal charges against the barge owners.  However, Mr. Zugibe stated in a press conference this week that police investigators and a grand jury examined the evidence and found that the sole factor in the fatal crash was John’s intoxication at the time of the accident.  According to Zugibe, “We believe John was solely responsible. He was operating the boat at a high rate of speed in the dark. It was like operating a vehicle with his eyes closed.”

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A 15 year old girl from Pleasantville behind the wheel of a 2001 Chevy Suburban in Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania on August 30th is now facing several criminal charges, including possible vehicular manslaughter, as the result of a fatal accident which left three 15 year old boys dead and two other passengers injured. Because of the girl’s age, authorities have not released her name. At approximately 11:30 AM this past Saturday, August 30th, the driver, four 15 year old boys from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and a 16 year old girl from Westchester were passengers in the vehicle which overturned while the group was on their way home from a local restaurant for breakfast.

According to investigators, the vehicle was purportedly travelling at a high speed on Goose Pond Road. This road is described as a hilly, winding, 2 lane roadway with a speed limit of 40 miles per hour. The car went into a left hand curve, one of the right tires apparently went off the roadway, and the car flipped more than once. A local resident from Lake Ariel heard one of the passengers screaming “Slow down…slow down” just before hearing a loud crash. One of the 15 year old boys was pronounced dead at the scene and two others were taken to local hospitals and died there. The three boys who were killed in the crash were identified as Ryan Lesher, Shamus Digney and Cullen Keffer, who all attended Council Rock High School in Bucks County.

Under both New York and Pennsylvania law, a driver must be at least 16 years of age to obtain a learner’s permit. Further, both states mandate that 16 year old drivers travel with a licensed driver who is at least 18 years of age. Here in New York, if the driver was charged as an adult, she could face vehicular manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges, which are felonies with potential jail sentences of up to 4 years in jail on each count. It would appear that if the driver is going to be criminally charged, as has been reported, there would be three charges of vehicular manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, for the three boys that were killed. Additionally, she is also likely to be charged with misdemeanor reckless driving, the less serious criminal charge of unlicensed operation, and the traffic infraction of speeding.

Because the driver is under 16, she will be charged under the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act and under this statute, the details will not be made public.

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In a chilling account for those of us who purchase tickets for concerts, sports events and Broadway Shows, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. announced on July 23rd the indictments of six men on charges that they were members of an international group that defrauded Stub Hub and its customers of approximately 1.6 million dollars. Stub Hub is owned by eBay.

The indictments were against residents of New York, New Jersey and a Russian national who was vacationing in Spain and was arrested there. Three others were arrested in London, and one in Toronto. Apparently, using technology which allowed “key loggers” (which record each keyboard stroke of the user to steal the user’s identity) to get the login credentials and passwords of a small number of accounts, hackers were then able to obtain credit card and debit numbers of these unwitting victims. It has been reported that Stub Hub was alerted to the purported criminal activity last year and has been cooperating with the authorities to apprehend the members of the international crime ring.

The defendants are charged in the New York County Supreme Court with several counts of money laundering, grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, and identity theft. Each of these charges are felonies, ranging between Class B and Class E felonies.

The group would use the stolen credit and debit cards to buy thousands of tickets to events such as Yankee games, Justin Timberlake concerts and popular Broadway shows including “The Book of Mormon”, and then resell the tickets for a substantial profit. The authorities were able to track the defendants using their I.P addresses (Internet protocol), Pay Pal accounts, and bank accounts. Proceeds of the resold tickets were apparently deposited in bank accounts in Germany and Britain, as well as in multiple Pay Pal accounts.

The defendants range in age from 21 to 37, and are charged with buying approximately 3,500 tickets to then resell for a profit. The Russian national, Sergei Kirin, 37, advertised money laundering services on the internet and is charged with laundering the profits from the resold tickets for a fee. He was apprehended in Barcelona on July 3rd. A former security officer for Stub Hub was quoted as stating that the indictments sent a message to the “cyber-criminals” that “you are no longer safe to travel and operate outside of your home country without significant risk of arrest and prosecution.”

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“30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” star Tracy Morgan was seriously injured, and a friend in the vehicle killed, as the result of a multi-vehicle crash on the New Jersey Turnpike early on Saturday, June 7, 2014. After performing at a comedy club in Dover, Delaware on Friday evening, Mr. Morgan, 45, along with a mentor who often performed with Mr. Morgan, “Jimmy Mack” McNair, 63, Jeffrey Millea, 36, Ardie Fuqua, Jr., 43, and Harris Stanton, 37, were travelling back to New York in Morgan’s Mercedes limousine bus on the New Jersey Turnpike near Cranberry, New Jersey early Saturday morning. The vehicle was struck in the rear by a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer operated by 35 year old driver Kevin Roper, who failed to stop when traffic slowed in front of his vehicle and is being charged with vehicular assault and for the death of Mr. McNair.

Mc. McNair apparently died at the scene of his injuries. He hailed from Peekskill, New York, and was described as a close friend and mentor to Morgan. Mr. Morgan suffered a fractured femur, a broken nose and several broken ribs, is listed in critical condition and is expected to remain in the hospital for several weeks recuperating. Stanton suffered a fractured wrist in the accident, and the injuries suffered by Fuqua and Millea were not described in news reports.

Roper attempted to swerve but was unable to avoid striking the rear of the Mercedes, leading to a chain reaction crash with another tractor-trailer, and SUV and two cars. Investigators have not uncovered any evidence at this time that Mr. Roper fell asleep at the wheel, and have no proof of any alcohol or drug involvement at this stage of the investigation. Wal-Mart President Bill Simon acknowledged that a Wal-Mart vehicle was involved in the tragic crash and stated: “This is a tragedy, and we are profoundly sorry that one of our trucks was involved. We are working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation,” Simon noted that the company “will take full responsibility” if investigators determine that its driver was responsible for the crash. Wal-Mart placed Roper on administrative leave pending the outcome of the legal proceedings.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash in conjunction with the New Jersey State Police to investigate safety issues regarding commercial trucking and limousine safety, including vehicle maintenance, testing for alcohol and drugs, and other factors that may have played a role in the accident, according to NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway.

Roper was charged with four counts of assault by auto and one count of death by auto. He was released on $50,000 bail on Saturday evening and was due to be arraigned in Middlesex County on June 9, 2014.

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