Criminal Law

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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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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Infographic – The Current State Of Crime In New York City

Crime in large American cities is staggering.  This is certainly true in New York City. This infographic shows there is a rise in violent crimes such as rape and misdemeanor assault over the past year. However, crimes such as murder, larceny, and burglary show a significant decrease.  Fighting crime in New York City is a huge job, and a job that the authorities take very seriously. If you have been arrested for a crime in New York City, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn your options and protect your rights.

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Murder vs Manslaughter in New York

Most people know that not every homicide is defined by the law as a murder and that murder and manslaughter are considered distinct crimes. Since different circumstances can lead to homicide for different reasons, the law in every state distinguishes several homicide charges and imposes different penalties for convictions. But for the investigators of a homicide, distinguishing between the different categories of homicide is frequently quite difficult.

Homicide cases are usually quite complicated, and a number of questions must be asked and answered. Witnesses must be interrogated, and timelines must be confirmed. Medical evidence and the cause of death are critical elements in a homicide case. It’s imperative for police and prosecutors to determine the appropriate charge because sentences are quite harsh for first-degree murder convictions and somewhat less harsh for involuntary manslaughter convictions.

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Frankly, not all homicides are even crimes. Killing someone in self-defense is not a crime, although the person who did the killing may need to prove that he or she acted in self-defense. An entirely accidental death might be an involuntary manslaughter, or it might not be a crime at all, although suspects in such cases can usually be sued for negligent wrongful death in civil courts. When one person kills – or is responsible for the death of – another, the key element when prosecutors decide on the charge is the suspect’s state of mind. Was the killing planned and pre-meditated? If so, it’s probably first-degree murder.

HOW IS MURDER LEGALLY DEFINED?

Under the common law that the United States inherited from Great Britain – law established by custom, tradition, and previous court rulings rather than by legislation – murder is defined as an intentional killing that is unlawful (not legal and not legally justifiable) and carried out with “malice aforethought.” Malice aforethought exists if a defendant intends to kill someone without any legal justification.

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However, malice aforethought isn’t necessarily limited to killings that are intentional. If a suspect inflicts serious bodily harm on someone and that bodily harm results in that person’s death, or if a suspect behaves with extreme and reckless disregard or with depraved indifference to human life, and if that behavior results in someone’s death, such actions can be legally considered malice aforethought.

Today, murder is defined more precisely by statute rather than common law, and the statutes spell out precise distinctions such as the difference between first-degree murder and second-degree murder. Even among those who kill with malice aforethought, the law considers some to be more criminally blameworthy and more dangerous than others. Although the precise details of the law may vary from state to state, first-degree murder is typically the charge when a killer has formed the intent to kill and has had an amount of time to reflect on the matter.

DOES FIRST-DEGREE MURDER COVER OTHER TYPES OF HOMICIDES?

First-degree murder is also the charge when a killing takes place during the commission of another felony such as an armed robbery or a kidnapping. In most states, even in a situation where the felon is not the killer, the felon can be charged with first-degree murder if death was a foreseeable result of the original felony. For example, if an arsonist torches a building and a firefighter is killed attempting to extinguish the fire, the arsonist can conceivably face a first-degree murder charge for the firefighter’s death.

When someone kills another person accidentally, the crime can be second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, or it might be no crime at all, such as an accidental traffic death.

Police and prosecutors determine the charge by evaluating how careless the defendant was – that is, by determining the defendant’s state of mind – which can be a difficult challenge. Second-degree murder happens when a defendant was aware of, but consciously disregarded, a risk that took another person’s life.

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For a charge of involuntary manslaughter, the defendant must have acted with “criminal negligence” – reckless behavior that a reasonable person would have avoided. The charge does not require that the defendant appreciated the risk before acting recklessly. The problem, of course, is deciding a defendant’s state of mind at the time of a reckless act. Courts and juries are inevitably left to rely on what the circumstances reveal and on their own impressions.

WHAT HOMICIDE CHARGES ARE AVAILABLE TO NEW YORK PROSECUTORS?

Murder is one of the most severely punished crimes in the state of New York. Anyone convicted of first-degree murder or certain second-degree murders in New York could face the death penalty, life without parole, or 15 to 25 years in prison. Obviously, anyone facing a murder charge or any homicide charge in the New York City-Long Island area will need high-quality defense representation from an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney. New York state law actually recognizes a variety of homicide charges – eight, in fact –  including:

  • First-degree murder
  • Second-degree murder
  • Criminally negligent homicide: This is the charge if someone’s recklessness, carelessness, or indifference leads to someone else’s death.
  • Aggravated criminally negligent homicide: This is the charge when someone’s carelessness, recklessness, or indifference leads to the death of a law enforcement officer while that officer is performing official duties.
  • First-degree vehicular manslaughter: This is the charge if someone causes another person’s death while breaking a traffic law or while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a suspended or revoked driver’s license.
  • Second-degree vehicular manslaughter: This is the charge if someone unintentionally causes the death of another while violating a traffic law or while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • First-degree manslaughter: This is the charge if someone unintentionally causes the death of another person when injuring that person was the only intention, and it’s also the charge if someone is killed accidentally during the attempted murder of a third person.
  • Second-degree manslaughter is the charge if someone causes a death while committing another crime. A second-degree manslaughter charge additionally means the prosecutor believes the killing was not malicious or premeditated.

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If you become the target of a homicide investigation in the state of New York, or if you are charged with any homicide, do not answer any questions from police officers or prosecutors before consulting with an experienced Long Island criminal defense attorney. Don’t try to act as your own attorney – nothing is more serious in the criminal justice system than a homicide charge.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Probation In New York

If you are convicted of a crime in the state of New York, trial may be a part of the sentence. You will be asked to sign a “Conditions of Probation” document before you can be placed on probation, but you should always discuss any document or plea with your New York defense attorney before signing anything or accepting any plea agreement.

If you are sentenced to trial, you will have to adhere to the terms of the trial, which usually include finding and keeping a job, avoiding any criminal associates, reporting on a regular basis to a trial officer, and being subject to unwarranted searches and random drug tests. If you are placed on probation in New York, take it seriously, or you could end up serving time behind bars. Listed here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about probation in the state of New York.

Q: What are my rights if I’m placed on probation in the state of New York?

A: Everyone placed on trial in the state of New York has the right to be treated with absolute dignity and complete respect. You have the right to be treated without any kind of bias, harassment, or discrimination. If you are on trial, and if you encounter any discrimination or disrespect, you should speak immediately with your probation officer or with the Supervising Probation Officer.

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Q: What about my right to vote?

A: As long as you are not currently serving time in prison, and you are not on parole for a felony conviction, you have the right to vote in the state of New York, but you must register in the county and district where you reside. You may need to check your voter registration to make sure that you are registered and that your registration is current.

Q: How often do I have to report to my probation officer?

A: The frequency of your visits with your trial officer will depend on several factors. Your probation officer may need to see you once a week, once a month, or on some other schedule. You must report for your visits on the day and at the time assigned to you by your probation officer. If an emergency or an illness prevents you from making the visit, call your trial officer at once to explain and to arrange a new appointment.

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Q: What if I fail to report to my probation officer?

A: If you fail to report, you may receive a letter ordering you to report, or your probation officer may call or visit your home. A failure to report may result in a violation of probation. If your trial officer believes that you have violated your trial, you will be ordered to appear at a violation of trial (VOP) hearing. When someone who is on probation in New York City or Long Island is ordered into court regarding a VOP, it is imperative to be accompanied by an experienced Long Island criminal defense lawyer.

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Do not try to act as your own attorney. In some cases, a good defense attorney may be able to persuade the court that no violation of trial has occurred. If the court decides that you are guilty of a violation of probation, the court may continue your probation without any changes, or it may add additional terms to your probation, or it may order you to be taken into custody.

Q: What should I bring to my first appointment with my probation officer?

A: Bring the following documents to your first appointment with your trial officer:

  • a photo ID (such as a driver’s license or state-issued ID)
  • proof of employment (a pay stub or a note from your employer) if you are employed
  • verification of your residence (a utility bill or some other business mail)
  • proof of completed treatment, community service, or restitution

Q: Can I expect surprise visits from my probation officer?

A: Yes. Probation officers have the legal right to make unannounced visits to your residence and to your place of employment.

Q: Is employment a requirement of probation in New York?

A: The state of New York requires those who are serving trial to work or to attend school or a vocational program because work or school will improve the chance of your trial’s success. Exemptions are made available for those with physical disabilities that keep them from working and for those who are in residential treatment programs.

Q: Can I apply for an early discharge from probation?

A: Anyone who is on trial in New York may apply to the Court for an early discharge. If you meet certain requirements, the Department of Probation may request an early discharge on your behalf. Only the Court has the power to grant this request. You can discuss the matter in more detail with your probation officer.

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Q: What if I have a family emergency and need to travel outside the state of New York?

A: In the event of a family emergency, persons who are on trial and who are in good standing may be approved to travel within the United States. You must seek prior approval for the trip if time permits, and you must provide complete details and verification regarding any travel out of state.

Q: What happens if I am arrested again while serving probation?

A: While you are on trial in New York, if you are arrested again for any reason, if you are charged with any offense, or if you come into contact with the police for any reason whatsoever, contact your probation officer as quickly as possible and explain in detail what has happened.

If you have been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor in the state of New York, and if you are fortunate enough to receive trial instead of a jail sentence or a stiff fine, take full advantage of the opportunity you are being given. Adhere to the terms of your probation as spelled out by the court, and you will avoid the harsh penalties that you might have received instead of probation.

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