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New York Criminal Defense Law Blog

DNA evidence prompts revision of lineup procedures

Police officers in New York and around the country have long relied on lineups to provide prosecutors with evidence linking suspects to the crimes they are accused of committing, but a growing number of cases involving individuals who were wrongly incarcerated for years or even decades has raised questions about the reliability of witness identifications. A Louisiana man convicted after a witness pointed him out in court was released in January after 38 years behind bars, and lawmakers in the state responded by introducing rules designed to make the identification process more transparent and fair.

While few witnesses intentionally misidentify suspects, studies have found that they often make mistakes because they want to do their civic duty and please the police officers involved. To address this problem, lawmakers in Louisiana and several other states now require what are known as double-blind lineups. In these lineups, the police officer assisting the witness does not know who the suspect is.

Court ruling an update to the Fourth Amendment

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the case of Carpenter v United States, and the ruling has major implications for privacy rights in New York and elsewhere. The court determined that authorities needed a warrant to access the man's cell site location information (CSLI). Prior to the Carpenter decision, officers only needed to have a good reason to believe that accessing this information would legitimately help in a given matter.

The plaintiff in the Carpenter case was a man who was taken into custody for robbery based on CSLI. Based on this information, authorities were able to track his whereabouts for 127 days prior to apprehending him. Legal precedent said that there was no right to privacy when it came to information handed over to a third-party. However, most people have no choice as to the data transmitted from a phone to a cell tower or other collection point.

The different types of prescription drug crimes

While there may be a difference between prescription drugs and illicit drugs, misuse of prescription medications is still illegal. These drugs can only be lawfully possessed and consumed by those to whom they are prescribed and in the amounts specified on the prescription. Prescription drugs that are commonly misused include painkillers, sedatives and sleeping pills. 

New York has specific laws that address the criminal use of prescription drugs. While it may seem like using or selling prescription medications is not as bad as something like cocaine or heroin, it can still come with severe consequences. 

Prosecutors charging overdose bystanders with homicide offenses

The opioid epidemic has led to the loss of many lives in New York and in the rest of the nation. As the number of overdose deaths has increased, police and prosecutors have started charging some of the bystanders of overdoses with crimes.

According to NPR, prosecutors across the country are charging other people who have shared drugs with or provided drugs to overdose victims with homicide offenses. The prosecutors are bringing charges based on the idea that even sharing or providing nominal amounts of drugs meets the definition of dealing drugs.

Rapper and TV star Jim Jones facing weapons and drug charges

On June 20, rapper and "Love & Hip-Hop: New York" star Jim Jones was taken into custody on gun and drug possession charges. According to reports, the incident allegedly involved a short car chase in Georgia.

The rapper and reality TV star was initially stopped by a Coweta County sheriff after the gray Mercedes SUV he was a passenger in was seen drifting into and out of the emergency lane several times on Interstate 85. When the officer pulled up next to the vehicle to talk to the driver, it was reported that the interior was filled with smoke and there was an apparent odor of marijuana. When the officer left the vehicle, the SUV took off, resulting in a short chase. The chase only ended when an officer pulled his vehicle in front of the SUV, causing the SUV to strike the police vehicle.

Rose McGowan indicted on felony drug possession charge

New York residents may be aware that the actress Rose McGowan was charged with cocaine possession in February 2017 after a small quantity of the drug was found in a wallet belonging to the actress that had been left on a plane. McGowan was one of the first women to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and rape, and she claims that the disgraced Hollywood mogul arranged for the cocaine to be planted in an attempt to smear and silence her. However, the publicity surrounding the case did not prevent a Virginia grand jury from indicting McGowan on one felony count of possession of a controlled substance. The indictment was issued on June 11.

McGowan says that she misplaced her wallet while flying to the nation's capital to attend the Women's March in January. An airline worker is said to have discovered the wallet and its alleged contents while cleaning the plane involved. The actress denies using drugs and has consistently maintained that the entire episode was orchestrated by individuals working on behalf of Weinstein.

Misidentification often leads to wrongful convictions

New York residents would never want someone to be convicted of a crime he or she didn't commit. Unfortunately, some experts say it happens much more than it should.

Witness misidentification is one of the most common causes of wrongful conviction. According to studies, it is fairly easy for some witnesses to choose the wrong individual in a lineup. For example, while looking at photo lineups, witnesses will often choose the person who most closely resembles the person they saw. While viewing a police lineup, some witnesses will choose the person they saw in the photo lineup. When sitting in a courtroom, witnesses will see the defendant on a daily basis and might become convinced that person is the one they originally saw.

Comedian avoids jail time for drug charges

New York residents may be interested to learn that comedian Artie Lange will not face jail time for his recent heroin possession charges. On June 1, he received a sentence of four years of probation from a New Jersey judge. In addition to probation, he will be required to complete 50 hours of community service. Additional stipulations require that he seek outpatient rehabilitation treatment in a recovery program.

In December 2017, Lange pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree possession for a controlled substance. There were also cocaine possession charges that were dismissed in lieu of a guilty plead for the other offense. Lange admitted to having 81 decks of heroin. The embattled comedian has a history of drug addiction.

Why prosecution witnesses in drug cases can be problematic

Prosecutors often obtain drug convictions through means such as eyewitness testimonies and police officer testimonies. However, witness testimonies can frequently be problematic. For one thing, the witnesses might have incentives to lie. Perhaps they believe that if they testify a certain way, they will get years knocked off a sentence.

The reality is that the drug case against you might not be as cut-and-dried as police and prosecutors may have made it seem.

New York drug sting leads to 13 arrests

A six-month investigation by New York authorities has led to the arrest of 12 men and one woman for allegedly participating in a drug trafficking ring. The sting, which led to arraignments on May 24, was called "Operation Cryptic Cipher."

Over the course of the investigation, authorities wiretapped tens of thousands of telephone calls. These calls allegedly helped them determine that the 13 defendants were involved in trafficking cocaine, heroin and fentanyl from New York City to Albany, where it was distributed. Prosecutors also allege that several of the defendants knowingly sold fentanyl to users who believed they were buying heroin. Fentanyl is much stronger than heroin.

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