Suffolk County’s Judicial Diversion Program

Most states have acknowledged that first-time offenders charged with committing minor crimes may not be best served by the regular judicial process of a plea and a sentence or trial. Counseling can often help and can often deter first offenders from committing a second offense. Defendants struggling with substance abuse issues can get the help they need when they participate in a judicial diversion program.

Suffolk County’s Judicial Diversion Program (JDP) offers some criminal defendants in Suffolk County an opportunity to move forward positively and constructively with their lives, free from alcohol and drugs. The Suffolk County JDP is a program for offenders who are facing non-violent felony charges and who also abuse alcohol and/or drugs. Instead of jail or probation, the JDP puts offenders in a drug or alcohol treatment program.

The Suffolk County Judicial Diversion Program is a collaboration between the Suffolk County Probation Department and County Court personnel to provide community supervision, substance abuse treatment, and case management to drug dependent felony offenders who have pleaded guilty to a non-violent felony charge. The program includes regular court appearances and supervision by a judge, as outlined below.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE SUFFOLK COUNTY JDP?

Precisely who qualifies for the Suffolk County JDP? Non-violent, drug dependent offenders charged with felony drug sales or possession – or other addiction-driven felonies – qualify. The defendants must plead guilty and agree to a contract with the court which spells out the orders of the court and the outcomes for completing the program successfully or for failure to complete the JDP successfully. An individual with a record of violent crimes, a severe or persistent mental illness, or a medical condition which would interfere with Judicial Diversion Program’s requirements will not be eligible.

If you are charged with a felony in Suffolk County, and if you believe that you are not guilty of the charge, an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney can fight to have the charge against you dismissed or advocate at a trial for your acquittal. However, if the evidence against you is persuasive, and if you need professional help with a drug or alcohol dependency, it’s possible that the Suffolk County Judicial Diversion Program may actually be just right for you. Consult with your attorney before you make any decision that will affect your freedom and future.

If you are eligible for the Suffolk County JDP, after your arraignment on the felony charge, you may choose the Judicial Diversion Program as an alternative to the regular court process. A Case Manager will then work with you to develop a personalized counseling and treatment plan. While you are in counseling and treatment in the JDP, a judge will closely monitor your progress.

WHAT ARE THE FOUR PHASES OF THE SUFFOLK COUNTY JDP?

The Suffolk County JDP includes four phases, and participants must successfully complete each phase before moving to the next phase. Phase One of the Suffolk County JDP lasts for at least two months. This phase focuses on the offender’s choice of a drug-free life and helps an offender establish freedom from drugs and alcohol by developing appropriate life skills and coping skills.

Phase One includes:

– the start of treatment and attendance at all treatment and counseling sessions
– a weekly report, by telephone, to the participant’s case manager
– no drug or alcohol use and random, supervised drug and alcohol screenings
– attendance at all required drug court sessions
– unannounced home visits by the Suffolk County Department of Probation
– two consecutive months drug and alcohol-free to advance to Phase Two

Phase Two of the Suffolk County JDP lasts for at least four months. In this phase, the participant stabilizes his or her participation in the program, works out strategies for living without alcohol and drugs, and focuses on developing realistic educational and/or employment goals.

Phase Two includes:

– mandatory attendance at all treatment and counseling sessions
– weekly reports, by telephone, to the participant’s case manager
– continuing abstinence from drug or alcohol use
– random, supervised drug and alcohol screenings
– attendance at all required drug court sessions
– unannounced home visits by the Suffolk County Department of Probation
– start or apply for a job skills training program or an educational program
– four consecutive months drug and alcohol-free to advance to Phase Three

Phase Three of the Suffolk County JDP lasts for at least six months. In Phase Three, the participant moves toward independence, reconnects with his or her family and community, and begins planning to complete the JDP and fulfill the final program requirements.

Phase Three of the program includes:

– attendance at all required treatment sessions
– a focus on relapse prevention and development of a relapse prevention strategy
– weekly reports, by telephone, to the participant’s case manager
– continuing abstinence from drug or alcohol use
– random, supervised drug and alcohol screenings
– unannounced home visits by the Suffolk County Department of Probation
– development of a continuing care plan and a community re-integration strategy
– start a job or an education or vocational program with a goal of self-sufficiency
– six consecutive months drug and alcohol-free to advance to Phase Four

Phase Four of the Suffolk County JDP also lasts for at least six months. Phase Four prepares the participant for release from the program and reentry into the community as a sober, productive, law-abiding individual. Phase Four focuses on the requirements for graduation from the JDP program. Attendance at treatment sessions is still required in Phase Four, along with the weekly telephone reports. Unannounced home visits and random screenings may continue. Near the end of the JDP, a participant must submit a written graduation application that spells out his or her accomplishments in the program and goals for the future.

WHAT IF A PARTICIPANT VIOLATES JDP RULES?

The court responds to violations of the program’s terms and conditions with a system of incremental or “graduated” sanctions. Violations are classified on the basis of their severity as “A” level infractions (serious infractions like flight from the program or a new arrest on a new charge) or as “B” level infractions (such as substituting or tampering with a urine sample). The number and severity of a participant’s violations determine the court’s response.

If you are charged with a non-violent, drug or alcohol-related felony in Suffolk County, and if you are dealing with a chemical dependency or addiction, the Suffolk County Judicial Diversion Program may be your chance to get the help you need. After an arrest for any criminal charge, anywhere on Long Island or in the New York City area, speak with an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney about your options. Sometimes an arrest isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Sometimes, for those who are willing, an arrest can be a positive turning point in someone’s life.

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How to Fight a Speeding Ticket in Suffolk County

Speeding is a factor in about thirty percent of the fatal traffic accidents in the state of New York. There’s no doubt that more lives could be saved if more motorists would drive just a bit slower. Nevertheless, if you’re cited for speeding in Suffolk County, instead of just paying the fine, speak first to an experienced Long Island traffic ticket attorney. It’s usually worthwhile – for a number of reasons – to fight a speeding ticket.

One important reason to fight a speeding ticket is because the possible penalties for speeding in this state, listed below, are severe:

– a $90 to $150 fine and up to 15 days in jail for speeding up to 10 mph over the limit
– a $180 to $300 fine and up to 30 days in jail for speeding 10 to 30 mph over the limit
– a $360 to $600 fine and up to 30 days in jail for driving more than 30 mph over the limit
– a $45 to $150 fine and up to 15 days in jail for “excessive or inappropriate” speed

Another good reason to fight a speeding ticket is this: the consequences of a speeding ticket do not evaporate and disappear just because you pay the fine. Paying the fine is an admission of guilt – a “conviction” in effect – that puts points on your driving record. When points go on your driving record, your automobile insurance rates can skyrocket.

In other words, a fine might be only the “tip of the iceberg” of a speeding ticket’s real long-term cost. “The fine is just the beginning,” according to John Bowman, Communications Director for the National Motorists Association.

HOW MANY POINTS DOES SPEEDING PUT ON YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE?

If you are convicted of three or more speeding infractions over a period of eighteen months in New York, your driver’s license is revoked, and every New York driver should be aware that if you are accused of speeding in a construction zone, the fine is doubled.

If you are found guilty of speeding in New York, along with paying a fine, you’ll also have these points placed on your driver’s license:

– for speeding up to 10 mph over the limit: 3 points
– for speeding 11-20 mph over the limit: 4 points
– for speeding 21-30 mph over the limit: 6 points
– for speeding 31-40 mph over the limit: 8 points
– for speeding more than 40 mph over the limit:11 points

Whether or not you are actually guilty of speeding, these are among the reasons why most lawyers would tell you to learn all of your legal rights and options before you pay any fine for speeding. With just a bit of research and work, along with some guidance from an experienced Long Island traffic ticket attorney, you might be able to pay a lower fine – or no fine at all – and have no points placed on your driving record.

For many jurisdictions in New York and across the United States, speeding tickets are a reliable source of revenue. The National Motorists Association, which describes itself as a “grassroots alliance of motorists joined together to protect our rights,” says that local governments collect literally billions of dollars every year from motorists who pay traffic tickets. The group encourages every driver to fight every traffic ticket.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE TICKETED FOR SPEEDING?

The truth is, if you are cited for speeding in Suffolk County, you should take advantage of every available legal measure to try to reduce the amount of your fine and to keep it from affecting your auto insurance rates. When you consider the combination of a fine, court costs, increased insurance rates, and points on your driver’s license, that’s a lot to pay for driving seven or ten miles per hour over the speed limit. But whatever you do, don’t ignore a speeding ticket. It does not go away, and overlooking it will just lead to more fines or eventually cost you your driver’s license.

Whether it’s out of fear or just complacency, the overwhelming majority of drivers cited for speeding in New York simply admit their guilt, pay the fine, and deal with the consequences. To plead not guilty to speeding in Suffolk County, obtain an attorney’s help at once, and make a copy of your speeding ticket because you’ll need to send the original right back.

Read the “not guilty” instructions on the speeding ticket and check the “not guilty” box on the back of the ticket. Complete the information requested, sign it, and return it within forty-eight to the Suffolk County Traffic & Parking Violations Agency (SCTPVA).

WHAT CAN A TRAFFIC TICKET ATTORNEY DO ON YOUR BEHALF?

SCTPVA will respond with a letter telling you when and where a hearing – called a “conference” – has been scheduled. Your attorney will examine every detail of the speeding ticket. Anything that’s incorrect on the ticket works in your favor.

Your attorney can also file a discovery motion to obtain every available bit of information about your case – from the officer’s notes to the current calibration certificate for the radar device the officer was using. Any detail might be helpful, and any information that’s inaccurate or missing might be grounds for having the charge dismissed.

Traffic court is not felony court, so many drivers will find the judge and prosecutor willing to offer some amount of flexibility. Your attorney might be able to approach the prosecutor in your case and simply ask for a reduction of the charge and fine.

At the National Motorists Association, John Bowman says, “If you give the court the impression that you are serious about fighting the ticket, you are going to have a lot more leverage and control over the process.”

While no guarantee can ever be offered regarding the outcome of any legal procedure, a good traffic ticket attorney may be able to have the speeding citation against you dismissed or at least reduced to a lesser charge.

In Suffolk County and anywhere on Long Island or in the New York City area, if you are dealing with a speeding ticket or any traffic violation, get legal help and speak immediately with an experienced Long Island traffic ticket attorney. According to John Bowman and the National Motorists Association, “You can never go wrong contesting a ticket if you have the time and energy, because you’re almost always going to come out ahead.”

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Senator Wants Tougher Penalties For Sex Crimes on Subways

One state senator in New York wants more arrests in New York City’s subways and tougher punishments for those convicted of what are called “subway crimes,” predominantly crimes like groping, sexual assault, and public lewdness. The penalty for “forcible touching” – currently a jail term of up to one year – would be increased to as much as seven years in prison under the senator’s proposal. State Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island has released a document titled “Perverted Justice: How Subway Grinders Continue To Victimize New Yorkers,” and she’s using it to gather support for new legislation that would “crack down” on subway crimes.

The senator’s crime report, based on statistics provided by the NYPD, shows that while New York City crimes rates may be dropping on the streets, subway crimes – or at least the number of reported subway crimes – have been increasing. At the same time, according to Senator Savino’s report, arrest numbers for subway crimes have declined.

That, however, depends on how you look at the figures. But whether or not the senator succeeds and passes new legislation, the police in New York are almost certain to feel political pressure and respond with their own crackdown on subway crime. It’s a situation where even innocent people are more likely to be arrested.

If you are charged with any type of a crime on a New York City subway – or anywhere else in New York City or on Long Island – you will need to speak as quickly as possible with an experienced Long Island criminal defense lawyer. If you are arrested, do not admit any guilt or even answer any questions until you can speak with an attorney.

Just tell the police, “I prefer to exercise my right to remain silent.” Especially in a criminal case that involves an alleged offense of a sexual nature, your defense attorney’s training and experience can make all the difference.

WHAT ARE THE STATISTICS?

What do the numbers say about subway crimes? In 2016, reported sex crimes on New York City subways increased 52 percent over the 2014 figure and 28 percent over the 2015 figure. In 2014, 620 sex crimes on New York City subways were reported. In 2015, the total was 738. In 2016, the total was 941. Reports of forcible touching on New York City subways rose from 340 in 2015 to 454 in 2016. Public lewdness reports increased from 227 in 2015 to 286 reports in 2016. Sexual abuse reports remained almost unchanged with 130 reports in 2015 and 126 reports in 2016.

Dermot Shea, who is the Chief of Crime Control Strategies for the NYPD, believes that the crime rate in the subways is not actually increasing. Instead, Shea believes that the only thing increasing in the subways is the number of crimes that are being reported. “If I was going to say one thing and broad-stroke it, it’s the increased reporting, really, of what we’re seeing – not necessarily increased acts.”

IS IT EASIER NOW TO REPORT SEX CRIME ALLEGATIONS?

Over the past few years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has made it easier for New Yorkers to report subway crime allegations. In 2014, the MTA established an online web page to receive anonymous subway crime complaints. And although the percentage of arrests versus reported crimes has slightly dipped since the web page went up, the actual number of arrests for reported sex crimes on New York City subways, in fact, increased from 403 in 2015 to 491 arrests in 2016. Many of those arrests were the result of complaints received online.

Just over a third of those who were arrested for subway crimes in New York City in 2016 – and through May 28th of this year – have at least one prior arrest for a similar subway crime. Senator Savino believes updated statistics are sufficient justification for the harsher criminal penalties she is proposing. Her report unequivocally states: “This data demonstrates that elevated penalties are needed for first time arrested offenders.”

WHAT IS NEW YORK SENATE BILL S3861?

What kind of “elevated penalties” is Senator Savino proposing? She’s hoping to gather support for a legislative proposal currently moving through the New York State Legislature that would make “forcible touching” – that is, groping, which is overwhelmingly the most frequently reported New York City subway sex crime – a Class D felony instead of a misdemeanor, thus making the maximum sentence for a conviction seven years plus a $5,000 fine. The current maximum sentence for a forcible touching conviction is a year behind bars and a $1,000 fine.

The proposal, New York Senate Bill S3861, would also expand the definition of sexual abuse in the first degree so that someone would be guilty of the offense if he or she intentionally subjects another person to sexual contact without that other person’s consent while being a passenger of public transportation, for the sole purpose of the sexual gratification of the offender. The proposal was passed by the New York State Senate in the first week of June and is currently headed to the New York State Assembly for consideration. If the Senate vote – 57 to 5 – is an indication, the proposal may actually be law by the time you are reading this.

The efforts of the New York Police Department to protect the public are to be applauded. The only problem is when you are charged with a sex crime – or any other type of crime – on a New York City subway, and you are not guilty. There are a number of reasons why this could happen – a misidentification, a casual friendly comment misinterpreted, or in some cases, even a completely fabricated story about a sex crime could lead to a wrongful arrest.

If and when Senate Bill S3861 becomes the law in New York, it will be aggressively enforced at first, and that’s also a time when a wrongful arrest is likely to happen. Anyone who is charged with forcible touching, public lewdness, or any other crime of a sexual nature on Long Island or in New York City will need to speak as quickly as possible about your case with an experienced Long Island criminal defense lawyer who can fight for justice on your behalf.

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Violation of Probation (VOP)? Here’s What You Need To Know

Anyone who is arrested and charged with a crime on Long Island or in New York City should obtain legal help at once and arrange to meet with an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney. Whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony, and whether the defendant is innocent or guilty, he or she will need an experienced New York defense attorney’s legal advice and representation.

Probation is often one of the penalties when a criminal sentence is handed down in this state. A convicted offender must agree to and sign a “Conditions of Probation” form before a judge will order probation. Of course, anyone who is being prosecuted for a crime should not sign any document or agree to any plea bargain before discussing the matter with his or her defense attorney.

In New York, anyone sentenced to probation must adhere to the conditions and terms, which typically include avoiding criminal acquaintances, finding and maintaining a job, unannounced drug tests and unwarranted searches, and meeting on a regular schedule with a probation officer. Anyone who is sentenced to probation must take it seriously. The failure to take probation seriously could lead to a violation of probation (VOP) charge.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A VIOLATION OF PROBATION IS ALLEGED?

When a probation officer reasonably believes that an offender has violated the terms of his or her probation, the court is told, and the offender must then appear at a violation of probation hearing, where it is imperative to accompanied by an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney. Sometimes, a good defense attorney can persuade a judge that no violation of probation took place.

However, if the court concludes that the offender is guilty and has, in fact, violated the terms of probation, more conditions may be added to the probation, or the offender may even be ordered to serve time in jail or prison. A violation of probation charge in the state of New York is handled in four stages: the arrest, the bond hearing, the violation of probation hearing, and the sentencing.

Because an offender serving probation has already been found guilty of a crime, many of the rights that criminal defendants may typically expect will not apply to violation of probation hearings. Although the procedure is similar in most ways to any other criminal hearing, there is no right to bond and no right to a jury, and guilt may be established by a simple “preponderance of the evidence” rather than the usual “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

When a probation officer in New York reasonably believes that an offender has violated the terms of probation, he or she submits an affidavit to the court which explains the alleged violation and describes the probation officer’s evidence. After reviewing the affidavit, the judge will issue an arrest warrant and the offender will be taken into custody and given a date for a bond hearing.

A probation officer, without an arrest warrant, can arrest and take directly to jail anyone serving felony probation. However, in some cases, a summons will be issued, and no arrest will be made provided the offender appears in court on the date specified by the summons. A summons is more typically issued if the alleged VOP is a misdemeanor charge or if the only violation is falling behind on fines, fees, and court costs. Otherwise, a VOP charge probably means an arrest.

IS BAIL ALLOWED FOR SOMEONE CHARGED WITH VIOLATING PROBATION?

When a probationer is placed under arrest for a VOP charge, he or she will be taken to a bond hearing. Persons serving probation have already been convicted of a crime, so they have no legal right to bail. While some judges in New York will set a bond in a VOP case, most will not. Bond in a VOP case, like a summons, is more likely if the alleged VOP is a misdemeanor charge or if the only violation is falling behind on fines, fees, and court costs.

Therefore, most offenders facing a VOP charge go to jail until the VOP hearing. Depending on the jurisdiction where the case is heard in this state, a VOP hearing could be set for as little as two weeks after the bond hearing or as long as three months. If an offender’s VOP is a new criminal charge, a Long Island criminal defense attorney may suggest asking for a continuance of the VOP hearing until the new case is concluded.

Why ask for a continuance? Because in such circumstances, if the probationer is found not guilty or the charge is dropped, the VOP charge will sometimes be dismissed as well. But in other cases, the state may nevertheless proceed with a VOP hearing, because the standard of proof is less for a VOP charge – a preponderance of the evidence rather than guilt beyond a reasonable doubt – so the prosecution is more likely to win a conviction with the VOP charge.

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE VOP HEARING?

An already-convicted offender has no right to a trial by jury, so in this state, a VOP hearing is conducted by and decided by a New York judge. Both sides present their cases, a judge considers the arguments and the evidence, and then the judge issues a verdict based on a preponderance of the evidence.

For a probationer to be convicted of VOP, the state must demonstrate that the VOP was “substantial” and “willful.” A positive drug test, for instance, is strong evidence of a substantial and willful violation of probation.

In a VOP hearing, the state presents its evidence and witnesses first. Often the probation officer will be the state’s only witness. When the probationer’s attorney cross-examines the probation officer, the attorney will try to get the probation officer to indicate that the violation may not have been willful or substantial. When the state completes its case, the defense has the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence, and the prosecution will be allowed to cross-examine any defense witnesses.

If the prosecutor wishes to make a rebuttal, that happens after the defense concludes its case. Closing arguments are then heard from both sides. The judge then considers the testimony, the arguments, and the evidence. Finally, the judge renders a decision.

Under the standard of the “preponderance of the evidence,” there is no necessity for the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The “preponderance of the evidence” standard is essentially a 51 percent rule, so a guilty verdict simply means it is “more likely than not” that the defendant committed the violation of probation.

Of course, a probationer found not guilty of VOP is still on probation for his or her original conviction. A guilty verdict means that the offender could be sentenced to any penalty that could have been imposed for the original conviction, including time in jail or prison.

In most VOP cases, however, the sentence for a VOP conviction is “time served” (while awaiting the VOP hearing), reinstatement (of the original terms of the probation), or a new probation sentence, typically with tougher terms and conditions than the first.

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Did A White-Collar Crime Create Long Island’s Real Estate Bust?

Bank fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, identity theft, and a number of other financial crimes are usually considered “white-collar” crimes. White-collar crimes can be trivial offenses or quite serious matters, but convictions for the most egregious white-collar crimes are punishable by decades-long sentences in federal prison. In some cases, an offender’s property can also be seized by the government to pay back the crime victims for their losses.

White-collar crimes are not violent, but that doesn’t mean there are no victims. White-collar crimes can cause victims to lose their homes or their savings, can keep a family from being able to send a child to college, and can even make it difficult for victims to pay their medical bills. White-collar crime costs the United States more than $300 billion a year, and the actions of white-collar criminals sometimes hurt all of us.

In March, for example, 51-year-old Aaron Wider was sentenced by a federal court in Central Islip to twelve-and-a-half years in prison for his role in a plan to swindle banks by obtaining mortgages fraudulently. In a four-week trial in 2016, federal prosecutors charged that Wider’s scheme inflated property values across Long Island, contributing to the real estate market’s eventual bust and Long Island’s plethora of “zombie” homes. These are homes that residents abandon – usually after receiving a foreclosure notice – which then deteriorate and languish, sometimes for months, until the foreclosure is complete.

WHY WAS AARON WIDER CONVICTED?

From 2003 to 2008, Aaron Wider headed the HTFC Corporation mortgage bank located in Garden City. While HTFC was a residential mortgage originator, it did not fund the mortgages itself and instead relied on “warehouse” lenders for mortgage funds.

Wider was convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud for defrauding those warehouse lenders out of more than $30 million in mortgage proceeds. U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt also ordered Wider to serve five years on supervised release and to pay $22 million in restitution to victims, although Judge Spatt acknowledged that Wider currently has no financial resources.

The federal Bank Fraud Statute of 1984 spells out what constitutes bank fraud: check kiting and forging, unauthorized use of automated teller machines (ATMs), credit card fraud, non-disclosure on loan applications, and diversion of funds. Bribery, money laundering, and passing bad checks may also constitute bank fraud. Because banks are federally insured, bank fraud is a federal offense.

Wider could have been sentenced to thirty years in federal prison – the maximum sentence for bank fraud. That’s what Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Artie McConnell asked for, saying that Wider’s conduct was “brazen” and adding that, “Long Island became the epicenter of zombie houses because of people like Aaron Wider.” Wider and his attorney made no comment beyond saying that Wider intends to appeal the conviction.

After Wider had been sentenced, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Bridget Rohde said, “Aaron Wider perpetrated a massive mortgage fraud scheme, the effects of which are still felt to this day by financial institutions and homeowners. Today’s sentence sends a strong message that those who manipulate and abuse the lending process will be held accountable.”

HOW DID THE FRAUD SCHEME WORK?

At Wider’s trial, the government presented evidence that Wider and his associates purchased Long Island houses and then used inflated assessments to sell the homes to an associate at the inflated prices. They then used the inflated prices to obtain falsely overvalued mortgages and pocketed the difference between the real and inflated prices, according to prosecutors.

Here’s an example: One associate of Wider purchased a property in Massapequa in 2007 for $450,000, transferred it to a trust and resold it the same day for $800,000. All of the properties ended up in foreclosure, leaving investors and banks on the hook after the real estate crash of 2008.

Essentially, white-collar crimes are violations of trust. The most frequent kinds of fraud in the state of New York include mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, real estate fraud, and healthcare fraud. Insurance fraud and identity theft are also on the increase.

In a white-collar case, a good defense attorney works first to have the charge reduced or dismissed; sometimes, a charge can be dismissed based on an out-of-court settlement with the alleged victim. In other circumstances, the best conclusion may be a reduced sentence after payment of restitution.

IF YOU ARE ACCUSED OF WHITE-COLLAR CRIME, WHAT IS YOUR RECOURSE?

On Long Island or anywhere else in the state of New York, if you are suspected of a white-collar crime and you are under investigation by state and/or federal authorities, if you believe that you are under investigation, or if you’ve been arrested and charged with a white-collar crime, you must retain the services of an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney.

Sometimes a white-collar crime investigation can take months, but if you are the subject, you don’t have to endure that kind of apprehension alone. Let a Long Island criminal defense attorney help.

The punishment for a white-collar crime conviction can include imprisonment, fines, restitution, community service, probation, and “alternative” sentencing such as electronic monitoring. Penalties became harsher after the Enron scandal, when Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, defining new white-collar crimes and increasing the penalties for mail fraud and wire fraud.

The consequences of a conviction for a white-collar crime extend beyond the penalties imposed by the criminal court. A criminal conviction for a white-collar crime is typically followed by a civil lawsuit when the victim or victims act to recoup their losses.

A criminal conviction for a white-collar crime can also lead to the seizure of bank accounts and even the forfeiture of the offender’s home. Those who hold a professional license will probably see it revoked after a conviction for a white-collar crime.

If you are charged with a white-collar crime, it does not necessarily mean that you will be convicted. The government must prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that you intentionally engaged in criminal behavior.

You may have worked for an employer who used you to take money unwittingly from a client’s account, and you had no hint that the employer was acting illegally. And sometimes, what looks like fraud is really – when it’s all sorted out – just a colossal misunderstanding.

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Are Minorities More Likely To Be Wrongfully Convicted Of Crimes?

The National Registry of Exonerations was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides details regarding exonerations in the U.S. – cases where a wrongly convicted person was later cleared of all charges on the basis of new evidence. In March of this year, the Registry released a study of nearly 2,000 exonerations since 1989.

The Registry found that black defendants who are convicted of violent crimes are far more likely than white defendants to be later exonerated. The exonerated black inmates also had a substantially longer average wait for exoneration than their white counterparts. University of Michigan law professor Samuel R. Gross, who is a co-author of the Registry’s report, said, “It’s no surprise that in this area, as in almost any other that has to do with criminal justice in the United States, race is the big factor.”

Blacks comprise nearly half – 47 percent – of the approximately 2,000 people exonerated since 1989. The crimes most frequently exonerated are murders, sexual assaults, and drug crimes. That’s not particularly newsworthy. What’s important is what the Registry’s data tells us about the factors that drive racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system and how that disproportionality can be reduced in the future.

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS?

Black defendants receive forty percent of the murder convictions in the United States, but fifty percent of the persons exonerated for murder are also black. Only 36 percent of those exonerated for murders are whites. Black inmates who were wrongfully convicted of murder spent, on average, three more years in prison than exonerated whites and Hispanics, according to the Registry. “The causes we have identified run from inevitable consequences of patterns in crime and punishment to deliberate acts of racism,” according to Professor Gross and the report’s co-authors, Maurice Possley and Klara Stephens.

Racial bias and police misconduct such as hiding evidence both play a role in the racial disproportionality. While only about 15 percent of the murders committed by black people target white victims, 31 percent of the blacks who are eventually exonerated of murder were initially convicted of killing white victims. The report’s authors determined that police misconduct was a factor in 76 percent of the cases in which black murder defendants were eventually exonerated but in only 63 percent of the cases in which white defendants were wrongly convicted of murder.

Previous research tells us that white Americans are more likely to misidentify black people for one another than to misidentify other white people, and that factor may play a role in the wrongful convictions of black defendants. The Registry’s researchers found that eyewitness mistakes were made in 79 percent of the sexual assault cases where black defendants were wrongly convicted but in only 51 percent of the cases where white defendants were eventually exonerated.

The number of exonerations for wrongful convictions is and has been rising for three decades. In a second report issued later in March, the Registry said that a record 166 exonerations were reported in 25 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico in 2016. Of those, 54 exonerations were for homicides, 24 were for sexual assaults, and 15 were for other violent crimes.

The Registry said that 70 or more of those exonerations involved police misconduct. In 2016, 74 exonerations were for convictions based on guilty pleas, more than any previous year. The majority of these 74 exonerations – 57 of them – were for drug crime convictions, but six were homicide exonerations, and four of those six were cases that involved false confessions. “There are probably more exonerations that we don’t know about,” Professor Gross admitted.

WHAT IS A CONVICTION INTEGRITY UNIT?

One positive trend cited by the researchers is the expansion of Conviction Integrity Units (or “CIUs”) across the country. A Conviction Integrity Unit is a division of a prosecutor’s office that strives to avoid, identify, and set right any false convictions. In 2016, 29 CIUs had been established across the United States, more than twice as many as in 2013 and almost five times as many as in 2011.

Conviction Integrity Units have helped to secure 225 exonerations since 2003, although more than 80 percent of those exonerations have happened only since 2014. The nation’s most active Conviction Integrity Unit is in Houston, where 76 people were exonerated from 2010 through 2015. Texas had more exonerations – 58 – than any other state in 2016. Illinois was second with 16, and New York was third with 14.

The National Registry of Exonerations says that 2016 was a record year for exonerations in several respects. A record number of exonerations in 2016 involved guilty pleas, police misconduct, and the work of Conviction Integrity Units. Additionally, a record number of exonerations happened in 2016 for those falsely convicted of crimes that never actually happened at all.

In our own state, the New York State Justice Task Force reviews potential exoneration cases and examines the various causes of wrongful convictions in New York. The Justice Task Force works to identify the practices and patterns that contribute to wrongful convictions in this state and to craft and implement the reforms that are needed to reduce the number of wrongful convictions.

HOW CAN A CRIMINAL DEFENDANT AVOID A WRONGFUL CONVICTION?

No promises or guarantees can ever be made or offered regarding the outcome of any single criminal case. Nevertheless, if you are charged with a crime on Long Island, in New York City, or anywhere in the state, the best strategy for avoiding a wrongful conviction is to seek the counsel of an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney. After any arrest, always politely exercise your right to remain silent and politely insist on your right to have a lawyer present during any interrogation.

While the best strategy for any criminal defendant in New York is to work alongside a Long Island criminal defense attorney, wrongful convictions are still far too common in New York and everywhere else in the U.S. Police officers make mistakes and sometimes intentionally bend the rules. Many crimes aren’t properly investigated, evidence is often contaminated or simply lost, and the wrong people too often end up in custody. The sad reality is that today in the U.S., too many innocent people are behind bars for a crime that they did not commit, and there’s no way to know how many.

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Long Island Police Battle Heroin And Methamphetamine Crimes

Atlantic City police reported six deadly heroin overdoses in the last week of January, and police in Nassau County have now warned Long Island residents about “bad” heroin that may have found its way from Atlantic City to Long Island. Small bags of heroin made from folded wax paper and stamped with the words “King of Death” were found at the scene of two of the Atlantic City overdose fatalities. Police in Nassau County also announced that law enforcement officers are keeping tabs on what they are calling a “drug outbreak” in Atlantic City, and they are asking residents to call 911 if they have useful information about heroin use or distribution.

Also, in what authorities have called a real-life version of the television show Breaking Bad, a lawyer who works for the Internal Revenue Service was arrested on February 1st in Washington, D.C., and accused by federal prosecutors of conspiracy to sell methamphetamine on Long Island. Attorney Jack Vitayanon, 41, is also an adjunct professor of tax law at Georgetown University Law School and is a former law clerk for a Florida federal judge.

Vitayanon allegedly “supplemented his income by selling distribution quantities of methamphetamine,” according to Robert Capers, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. In response to the arrest of Vitayanon, the Internal Revenue Service issued a statement that said in part: “We cannot comment on specific personnel matters…. The IRS strongly emphasizes that it will take any and all actions against inappropriate employee conduct, up to and‎ including dismissal.”

Federal prosecutors are alleging that Vitayanon conspired to distribute 500 grams of methamphetamine on Long Island. According to court records, federal agents have discovered video of Vitayanon “smoking what appeared to be methamphetamine from a glass pipe.” Vitayanon’s alleged methamphetamine dealing came to the attention of authorities in December when law enforcement officers on Long Island seized a Federal Express delivery with 460 grams of the drug as it was delivered to a home in Oceanside.

WHAT IS THE PENALTY FOR HEROIN AND METHAMPHETAMINE CRIMES?

Whether or not Vitayanon is eventually convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, it is important to know that incarceration is a likely penalty for anyone who is convicted of manufacturing, distributing, selling, or possessing either heroin or methamphetamine in the state of New York. It’s imperative for anyone who is charged with a drug crime in New York City or on Long Island to be represented by an experienced Long Island criminal defense lawyer. Since the days when Nelson Rockefeller was the governor of this state, New York has been famous – some would say infamous – for being tough on illegal drugs and drug dealers.

For example, back in 2007, the New York State Legislature outlawed the operation of facilities used to manufacture drugs like methamphetamine. Anyone who possesses or supplies drug ingredients or cooperates with an illegal drug lab can be charged with Unlawful Clandestine Drug Operation in the Second Degree, a Class C felony. The first-degree charge, a Class B felony, is filed if a suspect has previous criminal convictions, if juveniles are involved in the operation, if the lab is near a school, or if “booby-traps” have been set to surround the lab.

Heroin use has now reached its highest level in twenty years in the United States, according to a 2016 report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The report states that there were about a million heroin users in the United States in 2014, almost three times as many users as in 2003. Heroin-related fatalities across the nation increased five-fold from the year 2000 through 2014. In 2016, President Obama responded by asking Congress to approve an additional $1.1 billion to address the epidemic of opioid and heroin abuse.

WHY IS HEROIN USE INCREASING NOW?

“There have been a lot of theories about why heroin use is going up,” according to Scott Krakower, an assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Queens. Krakower explained to CBS News, “The biggest theory is that the crackdown on prescription drugs, like Vicodin and OxyContin, were being overprescribed and as prescribers slowed down the prescriptions of these drugs, heroin use went up.” In his work, Krakower sees the effects of heroin abuse. “Heroin is a dangerous, powerful opioid. It leads to pretty quick highs. It can easily suppress breathing. Eventually you can die from it.”

In 2015, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas responded to the rising heroin epidemic by recommending legislation that would allow New York prosecutors to charge a heroin dealer with a homicide if one of that dealer’s customers dies from a fatal overdose. New York is tough on drug crimes, but in most cases, drug dealers in New York still cannot be prosecuted for a customer’s death.

A lengthy prison term, however, is very often the penalty for a felony drug conviction in New York, so anyone who is charged with a drug crime should be defended by an experienced Long Island criminal defense lawyer. Drug charges frequently follow lengthy criminal investigations that can involve the use of wiretaps and/or search warrants, so challenging the legality and constitutionality of the investigation and the arrest will often be a defense attorney’s first move on a defendant’s behalf.

HOW ARE “DRUG LABS” PROSECUTED?

Operating a drug laboratory that produces a substance like methamphetamine inevitably requires the work of more than one person. Unsurprisingly, criminal investigations of drug lab operations usually result in a number of arrests and multiple criminal charges that include conspiracy charges. Anyone who is involved with or even acquainted with those who operate a drug laboratory could be mistakenly arrested and charged when the police move in on the lab.

New York is not the only location where heroin is re-emerging as a serious crime and a public health concern. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that internationally, 17.4 million people used heroin, opium, or morphine in 2014. Around the world as well as in New York, lawmakers and policy-makers are continuing to seek innovative and effective ways to protect the public and deal with the problem of narcotics and other dangerous drugs. Defense attorneys in New York remain dedicated to protecting the rights of suspects and achieving the best possible results for clients who face drug charges.

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In This Digital Age, Could Technology Testify Against You?

High-tech refrigerators, toasters, and washing machines may soon be among the tools that detectives will use to solve crimes, according to London’s Daily Telegraph. They’ll be connected to the “Internet of Things.” According to Wikipedia, the Internet of Things is the internet-based networking of vehicles, buildings, appliances, even light poles, and other physical items laden with electronics, sensors, software, cameras, and connectivity that enables these items to gather and exchange information.

In other words, we are connecting almost everything to the internet so that almost everything can gather data and be remote-controlled. In the immediate future, the Internet of Things could provide important clues for investigators working homicides and other crimes. “All these leave a log and a trace of activity. The crime scene of tomorrow is going to be the Internet of Things,” according to Mark Stokes, speaking for London’s Metropolitan Police. Already, detectives on both sides of the Atlantic are currently being trained to look for gadgets that could provide a ‘digital footprint’ of victims, suspects, and persons of interest.

Doorbells are already commercially available that show you – in real time, on your smartphone – who’s knocking at your door. Wireless cameras in refrigerators and washing machines can record movements and the time of those movements. The new Samsung Family Hub Fridge, for example, even includes a camera that provides a live feed of the refrigerator’s contents, so shoppers can see what they need while they’re at the supermarket.

HOW WILL DETECTIVES OPERATE IN THE FUTURE?

Login times and dates will be able to provide alibis and to verify someone’s presence at a specific place and time. Mark Stokes predicts that detectives in the future will carry a digital forensics kit that will let them analyze microchips and download data immediately rather than having to confiscate items and take them to a police lab. However, law enforcement agencies that gather evidence from the Internet of Things will also likely face considerable legal opposition from electronics manufacturers worried about the privacy concerns of consumers.

That’s already happening in Bentonville, Arkansas, where police investigators are trying to obtain evidence regarding the 2015 murder of Victor Collins. When investigators learned that their main suspect in the Collins murder – a man named James Andrew Bates – owned an Amazon “Echo,” they quickly focused on determining if the device had recorded anything that might advance their investigation. Bentonville authorities obtained a warrant telling Amazon to produce any recordings it has from Bates’ Echo device.

According to court documents, James Andrew Bates is suspected of murdering Victor Collins in November 2015. The two had been drinking with two other friends at Bates’ home. One of the friends left, the other apparently fell asleep, and the next day Collins was found dead in the home’s hot tub, according to court records. The coroner ruled that strangulation was the cause of death. Bates has been charged with murder. As 2017 begins, Amazon is refusing to provide any data to Bentonville authorities or even to confirm if it has any information.

Kimberly Weber, an attorney for James Andrew Bates, argues that there is a “big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us,” and Amazon has issued a statement that reads: “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”

However, Amazon’s Echo was not the only device that James Andrew Bates had connected to the Internet of Things. According to court records, his electronic water meter recorded that 140 gallons of water were used the night that Victor Collins died – all between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. – possibly, police believe, to clean and wash away blood and evidence from the patio surrounding the hot tub.

HOW DOES THE AMAZON “ECHO” WORK?

The Amazon Echo is an always-on “digital assistant” that supports Amazon’s voice-recognition program, Alexa. Amazon says the Echo and the smaller Echo Dot exceeded sales expectations in 2016 with nine times as many sales as in 2015. Without providing precise numbers, the company says that “millions of new customers will be introduced to Alexa” as a result of holiday-season sales in 2016.

Lynn Terwoerds is the founder of the Voice Privacy Industry Group and is also an executive director of the Executive Women’s Forum on Information Security and Risk Management. She told USA Today, “The myth we must fight against with Echo is that it’s constantly listening in on you – it’s not. I understand that law enforcement would have an interest in any information that could help in a murder investigation, but it can be argued that this data would be of very limited use as compared to individual privacy rights.”

Marc Rotenberg is the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center – EPIC – a Washington-based non-profit. Rotenberg insists that “there should be clear legal standards established for law enforcement access. And manufacturers should adopt techniques for data minimization and data deletion. Devices that retain data will be the targets not only of law enforcement officials but also criminal hackers.”

ARE YOUR RIGHTS AT RISK?

As technology moves forward, privacy is becoming harder to ensure, and the rights of suspects in criminal cases can be endangered. The City of Chicago, for example, is now placing sensors on light poles to monitor, photograph, and listen to what’s happening on the streets – the entire city is being connected to the Internet of Things. Advancing technology is making surveillances, searches, and investigations increasingly complicated. If you are arrested in New York or on Long Island, let an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney review your case to determine if your privacy rights have been violated by the police.

Lawmakers and courts are doing what they can to protect privacy rights, but advances in technology move much faster than courts and legislatures are able to react. As the law struggles to keep up with technology, the rights of the individual can sometimes be overlooked. If you are charged with a crime, or if you simply need more information regarding your own legal rights, let an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney provide the representation or legal advice you need.

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Why Crime Statistics Are So Confusing

You probably already know that Mark Twain spelled out three categories of lies: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Crime statistics often are confusing, misleading, twisted on purpose, and usually incomplete. The numbers that will be coming out in January regarding 2016 crime totals will show a higher murder rate in most big cities. That happens almost every January, but you should probably read the headlines with a healthy dose of skepticism.

For example, in December of 2015, former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly charged that the current commissioner, William Bratton, was undercounting New York City’s gun crime totals by not counting people who were injured by broken glass caused by stray gunfire or those whose attire – but not their physical bodies – are pelted by bullets. Bratton, in response, said that such incidents have been ignored since the department started keeping track of shootings in 1994.

However, Commissioner Bratton added that both of these types of shooting crimes are counted as aggravated assaults in the statistics that were officially reported by the city to the FBI. Right there, federal crime statistics and New York City crime statistics don’t match up. The conflicting statistics make New York City a good example of what crime statistics can tell us – and also what crime statistics can’t tell us.

WHAT CRIME FIGURES ARE THE HEADLINES BASED ON?

Compiling and reporting crime statistics is a slow process. The headlines you see in January will be based on each city’s unofficial crime figures. Not all reported crimes, however, get reported to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system, the “official” national source for crime statistics, so UCR figures tend to be lower than “actual” crime figures. Furthermore, the FBI will not publish “official” 2016 crime numbers for more than 18,000 local police agencies until the fall of 2017.

Some police departments report “official” crime figures earlier in the year, but every police agency handles the process differently. Some issue a press release in the first week of January, some issue more detailed reports later in the year, and other police departments only release crime statistics on request. Each law enforcement agency handles information requests differently as well. The result: There are lots of “official” crime numbers, and they do not necessarily add up.

New York City, to no one’s surprise, is far from the only city where crime statistics can be confusing. In Oakland and Chicago in 2015, for example, homicides were up but overall crime was down. That’s not uncommon, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, which determined that overall crime declined in the largest U.S. cities in 2015 – except in Charlotte and Los Angeles – although the number of homicides increased in large cities. Homicide figures ran counter to overall crime figures in 2014 and 2013 as well.

WHAT DO CRIME FIGURES MEAN FOR THE AVERAGE PERSON?

What does this mean for the average person looking for information about local crime rates? Generally speaking, cities and communities with high homicide numbers also have high rates of violent crime and property crime, but there are plenty of exceptions and nuances that allow politicians and chambers of commerce to spin positive numbers when they need to. When those same politicians and chambers of commerce want more funding for law enforcement, they can spin the data negatively to justify the need for more funds.

Of course, as every New York and Long Island criminal defense attorney knows, a city as large as New York or a setting as diverse as Long Island is going to have low crime in some areas and higher crime in others. On his blog site, statistics professor Ben Wellington ranked 188 New York City neighborhoods for six different kinds of felony crimes based on the first nine months of 2015. Wellington found that a neighborhood’s ranking for homicides usually was a good indicator of the neighborhood’s ranking for assault and battery but seemed entirely unrelated to property crimes like auto theft.

Realistically, however, if you are concerned about becoming a crime victim, who you know may be a far more important factor than where you live. Police spokespersons in cities with rising homicide rates – including Portland, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C. – routinely remind the public that many homicide victims are gang members or people with criminal records and criminal associates.

WHAT ARE SOME ADDITIONAL PROBLEMS WITH CRIME DATA?

A further problem with crime statistics is the lack of a genuinely uniform reporting procedure. Often, whether or not a crime is reported or “counted” as a crime is left to the discretion – the subjective judgment call – of the police officer on the scene or that officer’s supervisor. There is no precise, codified definition – used across the board – for terms like “gun crimes” or “crimes of violence.” The FBI publication that tells local law enforcement agencies how to define crimes doesn’t even use the word “shooting,” and most police departments don’t count shooting homicides separately from stabbings, strangulations, and other homicides.

Media coverage is a related issue. Rising crime gets coverage. It brings out politicians seeking votes and community voices seeking action. It sells newspapers, garners ratings, and gets web-surfers to click on news sites. “Crime is up” is a front-page story, but if crime is dropping, it’s a story that’s invariably buried somewhere off the front page. Many police departments have been accused of tweaking their crime statistics, so even the “official” FBI numbers probably need to be questioned.

Unreported crime is another concern. Most people who tell poll and survey takers that they’ve been victims of crime added that they never reported the crime to the police. A theft victim may decide that the time and trouble of reporting the theft simply isn’t worth it. Prostitutes and drug dealers may not want to report some of the crimes committed against them, for obvious reasons. Underreporting of rape and sexual assault continues to be a major concern. Experts also believe that many – if not most – incidents of domestic abuse and domestic violence are never reported.

Another problem with crime statistics is fabricated crime accusations. Of course, anyone accused of a felony or a misdemeanor in the Long Island or New York City area will need the help of an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney. However, anyone trying to learn something useful from the study of crime statistics will probably need more help than even a good attorney can provide.

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Up In Other Cities, Homicides In New York May Drop To Record Low

Crimes rates – and particularly homicide rates – appear to be rising in other big U.S. cities in 2016, but the homicide rate in New York City this year could set a record – a record low, that is. Serious crimes in almost all categories are declining across the five boroughs, and the number of serious crimes in the city could drop below 100,000 for the year – an important benchmark for law enforcement authorities.

According to Newsday, there were 285 homicides in New York City this year through October 30, compared to 300 homicides at the same time last year. The record homicide low for New York City in the modern era (that is, the “era” of CompStat, the crime-tracking system that the NYPD has been using since 1994) was 333 in 2014. The record high homicide figure in New York City history was 2,245 in 1989.

homicides_new_york

The number of serious crimes has never dropped below 100,000 in New York City in the CompStat era. As of October 30, however, the number of serious crimes in the city in 2016 stood at 84,064. (In 1993, the city recorded a record high 430,460 serious felonies.) There were 242,470 arrests in New York City in the first nine months of 2016, a drop of 7.4 percent from 2015 and the lowest level recorded in the CompStat era. Misdemeanor arrests declined by 6.7 percent and violation arrests were down by 55 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

WHY IS CRIME DROPPING IN NEW YORK CITY?

Mayor de Blasio told the Huffington Post that the lower crime statistics in the five boroughs are linked to an increased focus by the New York Police Department on getting guns off the streets. The NYPD seized over 800 guns in just the first three months of this year, more than a 15 percent increase in weapons seizures over the first quarter of 2015. Firearms-related arrests in the city are also up by about 13 percent this year. Since the start of 2014, New York City has seen a total decrease of more than five percent in crime incidents across all major crime categories combined, the mayor said.

Mayor de Blasio added that the dropping crime rate is “an extraordinary testament to the consistency of the progress that the NYPD has made. I remember vividly what things were like in this city when we had over 2,000 murders a year, when even walking down a busy street you had to look over your shoulder. I remember how life was, how many people left because they thought this city couldn’t possibly succeed. Well, the NYPD turned that around.”

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NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis told Newsday, “if the trend continues, we very well may be in for a record year.” Richard Aborn, speaking for the Citizens Crime Commission, said the crime trends in New York City so far in 2016 were “remarkable.” Aborn attributed the declining crime levels to the New York Police Department’s “precision policing” approach, which concentrates resources and manpower on finding “bad actors and getting them off the street.”

WHAT IS NEW YORK DOING THAT OTHER CITIES ARE NOT DOING?

Whether it’s precision policing or something else entirely, what’s clear is that the NYPD is apparently doing something right that is not being done in other cities. People are being shot in Chicago, for example, in disturbingly high numbers: 3,500 shootings were reported in Chicago through mid-October, a thousand more than at the same time last year. It took only until the end of Labor Day weekend for Chicago to have more homicides this year than it did in all of 2015. Chicago’s homicide total has surpassed 600 for the first time since 2003, with two months remaining in 2016.

This year, Chicago could see the city’s highest homicide toll in nearly two decades. Yet, on a per capita basis, Chicago’s gun violence epidemic is not nearly as severe as the violence in many other large U.S. cities. Chicago’s homicide rate over the last five years was 16.4 per 100,000 residents. In New Orleans and St. Louis, for example, the homicide rate from 2010 to 2015 was three times that high on average. And in Las Vegas, at the end of September, there had been 125 homicides – a 27 percent increase over the same period in 2015.

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The national murder rate had declined sharply for two decades until 2015, when the murder rate across the U.S. jumped nearly 11 percent – the largest single year increase in nearly half-a-century. Data published in September by the New York Times confirms that murder rates rose substantially in 25 of the largest cities in the United States in 2015, and it’s expected to keep climbing. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law predicts an increase in the national murder rate of 13.1 percent this year over 2015, and an increase of 31.5 percent over 2014.

IS THERE A SINGLE EXPLANATION FOR RISING OR FALLING CRIME RATES?

While news about the murder rate nationally is disheartening, the declining murder rate in New York City is great news for the city’s residents and visitors. Still, more than 240,000 arrests were made in the five boroughs in the first nine months of 2016, and every one of those suspects will need the services of an experienced New York or Long Island criminal defense attorney. If you’re accused of a crime in New York, don’t try to act as your own attorney. The law is too complicated, too much is at stake, and although crime rates are declining, the penalties for a conviction in this state can still be quite harsh.

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Crime figures are like ink-blot “Rorschach” tests – people see what they want to see in crime statistics, and no two people see precisely the same thing. A New York or Long Island criminal defense attorney would probably say that there is simply no single explanation for the reduction in crime locally in New York City or the rising crime rate nationally. No matter how closely you examine the figures, no single pattern or answer emerges, and there’s always another factor to consider. For now, with crime continuing to decline in New York City, it is probably best for the NYPD simply to keep doing whatever it is they’re doing.

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