Public Corruption Crimes in New York

Crimes involving elected and other public officials can be some of the most complex and highly
charged cases in the criminal justice system. Whether the accused is a local Spring Valley,
Rockland County mayor or trustee, a New York City judge, or a New York State Senator in
Albany, these cases can attract the public eye and the full focus of a District Attorney’s Office
like no other. Generally speaking, public corruption refers to situations in which a government
officials demands, accepts, solicits or agrees to accept something of value in return for their
influence or power. Public officials charged with public corruption crimes not only face the
penalties associated with a conviction, such as state prison or probation, but also embarrassment,
humiliation, the end of a career or removal from office. Having an attorney who is experience
with the unique implications and political dynamics of these kinds of prosecutions, as well as the
distinctive issues often presented at a trial on these charges, is essential.

Public corruption charges essentially boil down to the charge of Corrupting the Government in
either the First, Second, Third or Fourth Degree, PL 496.05, PL 496.04, PL 496.03, and PL
496.02, and the enhancement of other charges being committed "as a crime of Public
Corruption," PL 496.06. The last of these charges functions as an enhancement of certain other
enumerated offenses, which are Petit Larceny, PL 155.25, Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree,
PL 155.30, Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, PL 155.35 Grand Larceny in the Second
Degree, PL 155.40, Grand Larceny in the First Degree, PL 155.42, Scheme to Defraud in the
Second Degree, PL 190.60, and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, PL 190.65. Other related
charges that can often accompany Corrupting the Government and Public Corruption charges are
Bribery, PL 200.04, and Official Misconduct, PL 195.00.

The charges against public officials also often rely on multiple distinct alleged instances of
misconduct, which can lead to the possibility of consecutive, rather than concurrent, sentencing.
This means that, very often, these charges come with the potential for extremely long prison
sentences, not to mention restitution and combined fines for all distinct alleged incidents.
With regard to real-world examples of these kinds of charges, indictments and prosecutions for
public corruption typically fall into one or more of five camps:
– Extortion
– Fraud
– Bribery
– Kickbacks
– Mishandling funds

In addition to these classic examples of public corruption, these charges can also stem from
alleged violations of non-Penal Law statutes and Ethics Code infractions, such as failing to abide
by requirements related to financial disclosures, Public Officers Law § 73-a.

The evidence in Public Corruption cases typically boils down to what are commonly referred to
as “paper cases” – cases in which most or all of the evidence amounts to bank records, ledgers,
affidavits, and other documentary evidence, as opposed to the testimony of witnesses. However
in certain circumstances, witness testimony becomes key. For example, in the context of
allegations for kickbacks from government contractors, the exhange of cash from contractor to
elected official often boils down to the word of the contractor or another eye witness, who may
have an axe to grind or may be cooperating with the prosecution in the hope of getting a
favorable deal on their own criminal case.

No matter what the particular circumstances of the case, it is critical that a government official
charged with public corruption be represented by counsel that is well-versed in not only this
unique and complex area of law, but also in the practical and real-world implications and
ramifications of this kind of prosecution.

This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense lawyer who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand crimes of public corruption in New York. To better understand crimes, possible defenses, and how you can best protect yourself, consult with your criminal lawyer.

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Photo Arrays in New York Courts

A new law has recently gone into effect in New York State which fundamentally changes a basic tenant
of New York Criminal Practice. New York was the only state in the United States that still did not
allow evidence of a prior identification made by a witness via a photo array to be introduced at trial.
The thought has always been that presentation of a photo array to a jury would suggest that the
defendant has been in trouble before – why else would they have a photo of him at the time of the
identification procedure. This was deemed to be unfair to the defendant and improper. However, many
felt that this concern was outdated, and New York decided to join the vast majority of other states in
allowing for the prior photo array to be introduced at trial, but with very strict requirements on how the
photo array is compiled and out the identification procedure is conducted. Strict requirements or not,
this new allowance will have a wide-reaching and significant impact on criminal prosecutions in New
York City, including Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, all the way upstate to Rockland
County, Westchester County and beyond.

A photo array is one form of identification procedure – a tool used by police and other law enforcement
agencies to identify the alleged perpetrator of a crime. A photograph of the suspect is acquired one way
or another, and put on a single page with photos of other individuals. When compiled appropriately, the
other individuals should meet the same general description of the suspect. For example, if a victim of a
crime tells the police that the perpetrator was a black male, it would be highly improper for a detective
to compile a photo array with only one photo of a black male, and the rest white men and/or women.
This would be highly suggestive, would clearly not be admissible at trial, and would likely preclude the
victim from even identifying the person at a trial, since they have arguably been tainted by this
improper procedure.

Photo arrays, when used in investigations in New York, have always been subject to scrutiny for this
reason – because if a photo array was unduly suggestive, the witness would be prevented from
identifying the suspect again at a later proceeding. However, there was never a question that the photo
array itself would be precluded from the trial. Now, that has all changed. The new law allows the
prosecutor, such as the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, to put the photo array itself into evidence,
and present it to a trial jury as confirmation that the witness identified the defendant was the one who
committed the crime back on that day that the photo identification procedure was performed. This
would be powerful evidence at a trial, especially since such a photo array identification would have
been done much closer in time to the incident itself, as opposed to a trial that takes place months or
years later.

Up until today, the fact that a witness picked a person out of a photo array has been inadmissible at any
trial in New York State. The new law which was just passed permits the prosecution to submit
evidence to a trial jury that the witness picked the defendant out of a photo array. This can be very
powerful evidence, because a prosecutor will argue that the fact that the witness selected the defendant
out of six photos means that the witness was able to recognize the person who committed the crime.
As mentioned, there are requirements and safeguards that have been put in place that go even beyond
the standards for analyzing the propriety of the photo array procedures in the past. These new
requirements could incentivize police and prosecutors to conduct these identifications in even more fair
ways, for hope of being able to introduce it at a trial. For example, the new law requires that, to be
admissible at trial, the photo array must be conducted “blinded,” meaning the detective who presents
the photo array does not know who the suspect is. This can prevent the conscious, or even unconscious
suggestion by a detective to the witness about who the “correct” answer is, or who the actual suspect is.

There was no such requirement previously with regard to suppressing the subsequent in-court
identification at trial. In addition, before a photo array can be introduced at trial, there must be a formal
hearing before a judge to determine whether the various rules and requirements of the new law were
complied with. If the rules were not followed, the witness can still identify the defendant at trial,
provided that the photo array was not unduly suggestive by the old standards. However, as practitioners
become accustom to these new requirements, and see the benefits and increased fairness they might
create in the justice system, these new requirements could bleed into our general understanding of what
is and what is not “unduly suggestive.”

Any person accused of a crime where there was a photo array identification procedure performed in the
course of the investigation must be aware of this hugely impactful new law, which can change the
entire strategy of a criminal defense potentially. It is critical that a person in this position be represented
by a criminal defense attorney familiar with these new standards.

This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense lawyer who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand recent changes to photo array identification evidence in New York courts. To better understand crimes, possible defenses, and how you can best protect yourself, consult with your criminal lawyer.

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Local Courts in Rockland County

Unlike the justice system in New York City, criminal cases in Rockland County are prosecuted and heard in many different local Justice Courts throughout the various towns and villages in the Count. In Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and throughout New York City, misdemeanors and unindicted felonies are typically heard in centralized Criminal Courts that are akin to the Supreme Court for the particular county where indicted felonies are heard. Rockland County too has a centralized court for heard indicted felonies, called County Court. But rather than a centralized lower court, each municipality throughout Rockland County has its own local court where misdemeanors and unindicted felonies are heard, as well as certain civil cases and traffic infractions such as speeding tickets. These local courts each have their own elected judges, court clerks and other staff, and their own quirks and nuances. Some of these local town and village courts hear cases exclusively in the evenings, some in the mornings, some in the afternoons, some only once per month, some once per week, and others run all day every day. If you are charged with a crime in Rockland County, having an attorney who is familiar with the intricacies of the justice system in the County, and the local procedures and personalities of the many local Justice Courts can have a huge impact on your case.

These local courts are all universally referred to as Justice Courts, but they can go by different titles coloquiolly, such as Nyack Village Court, or Ramapo Town Court. Whatever title the particular court may go by, they essentially all have the same function. These courts handle traffic infraction cases and speeding tickets, they handle misdemeanor cases from arrest to sentence, and they handle felony cases unless and until those cases are indicted and are accordingly transferred to County Court in New City.

This can create a difficult system to manage for any person charged with a criminal offense in Rockland Counrt, for an unfamiliar criminal defense attorney, and even for the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office. In light of this, the Rockland DA’s Office has Assistant District Attorneys assigned to one or more of the many local courts who typically handle all of the cases out of that court or courts. These local courts include Ramapo, Airmont, Suffern, Clarkstown which includes New City, Stony Point, Nyack, Upper Nyack, South Nyack, Orangetown which includes Pearl River and Orangeburg, Piermont, the Town of Haverstraw, the Village of Haverstraw, the Village of West Haverstraw, Spring Valley, Montibello, Wesley Hills, New Hempstead, Pomona, Hillburn, and Sloatsburg.

A lawyer who is familiar with the dynamics of this complex system, and the unique practical difficulties and complications this network of Justice Courts can create, will be able to effectively guide you and advise you on the best choices to make throughout the course of your criminal case.

This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense lawyer who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand the local courts in Westchester County. To better understand crimes, possible defenses, and how you can best protect yourself, consult with your criminal lawyer.

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