Category Archives: Penal Law

Sufficiency of Accusatory Instrument Charging Patronizing a Prostitute 3º

A few days ago, the Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Term’s decision dismissing an accusatory instrument as jurisdictionally defective.  At issue was whether the term “manual stimulation” in the context of Patronizing a Prostitute 3º was sufficient.

At the Appellate Term, the defendant argued, “the [term] ‘manual stimulation’ he sought could refer to a ‘foot rub, therapeutic massage, chiropractic adjustment, personal training – even an energetic match of thumb wrestling’.”

I think I’ll let the Court of Appeals’ opinion on this issue speak for itself:

The factual allegations that defendant requested “manual stimulation” from a woman on a street corner, for a specific sum of money, at 2:25 a.m., supplied “defendant with sufficient notice of the charged crime to satisfy the demands of due process and double jeopardy” (People v Dreyden, 15 NY3d 100, 103 [2010]). Defendant’s argument that “manual stimulation” could be indicative of nonsexual conduct ignores the inferences of sexual activity to be drawn from the factual context in which the statement was alleged to have been made—a late night solicitation of a physical personal service from an individual on a public street, in exchange for a sum of money. Any assertion that defendant was referring to a nonsexual activity “was a matter to be raised as an evidentiary defense not by insistence that this information was jurisdictionally defective” (see Casey, 95 NY2d at 360). The fact that the instrument used a clinical phrase for the sexual activity alleged does not render the instrument jurisdictionally defective.

(LC).

Sufficiently Pleading an Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle Charge

For a misdemeanor complaint to be facially sufficient, the accusatory instrument must provide facts that would establish each element of the crimes being charged. In People v. Bajas (App. Term 2d Dept. 8/31/2018), the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction,  holding that the allegations in the accusatory instrument sufficiently alleged facts that established the “control or use of [a] vehicle” element of Penal Law § 165.05(1). The case drew a dissent from Judge Weston.

The defendant was arrested after an officer observed the defendant, at 4:24 AM, pull the handle of a 2006 Ford Suburban, enter the vehicle, and rummage through the glove compartment and center console of the Ford Suburban. The defendant was arrested and charged with Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle in the 3°, Attempted Petit Larceny, and Resisting Arrest. During his second court appearance, the defendant pleaded guilty to Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle in the 3° with the understanding that if he successfully completed a drug treatment program, the case would be dismissed. If he was unsuccessful in treatment, the defendant would be sentenced to one year of incarceration to run concurrently with a sentence on a prior, unrelated, felony charge. The defendant did not complete the drug treatment program and was sentenced to imprisonment.

On appeal, defendant contends that his conviction should be reversed because the factual part of the accusatory instrument, which merely alleged that he had entered a vehicle and rummaged through the glove compartment and the center console, did not satisfy the reasonable cause requirement for a misdemeanor complaint charging Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle in the Third degree. A person is guilty of Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle in the 3° when:

[k]nowing that he does not have the consent of the owner, he takes, operates, exercises control over, rides in or otherwise uses a vehicle. A person who engages in any such conduct without the consent of the owner is presumed to know that he does not have such consent.

The broad language of the statute has been interpreted to apply to a person who “enters an automobile without permission and takes actions that interfere with or are detrimental to the owner’s possession or use of the vehicle.” Entry into a vehicle alone is not enough; there must be some degree of control or use. The court relied on this reasoning for holding that the defendant’s rummaging through the car and center console satisfied the statute.

Judge Weston, on the other hand, would have reversed the judgment, vacated the guilty plea, and dismissed the accusatory instrument. In her dissent, Judge Weston pointed to the majority’s reliance on the Court of Appeals decision in People v. Franov. Franov dealt with an entry into a vehicle where the defendant vandalized and then removed certain automotive parts from the dashboard. Judge Weston believed that merely rummaging through a vehicle does not constitute vandalism, and since there was no allegation in the accusatory instrument of any further action on the part of defendant, in addition to the entry, the statute was not satisfied. Instead, Judge Weston would have the Court follow the same rationale as a similar previously decided case, People v. Gavrilov. This case held that the defendant’s entry into a vehicle and stealing a wallet from inside was not enough to constitute “use or control” of the vehicle for the purposes of the statute. Here, there was not even property taken (MK/LC.

Intent to Cause Serious Physical Injury Does Not Preclude Finding of Depraved Indifference

In People v. Wilson (Ct. App. 6/14/2018) (Garcia, J.), the Court of Appeals held that evidence of the defendant’s sustained assaults against his girlfriend over a period of two months, resulting in broken bones, brain injury, and permanent cognitive impairment, was sufficient to support a conviction for depraved indifference assault (Penal Law § 120.10[3]).

The defendant moved in with the victim in January 2011 shortly after meeting her and shortly thereafter began subjecting her to regular, severe physical violence. In August 2011, she suffered a burst blood clot on her ear and visited the hospital, where the doctor noted signs of previous trauma, including bruises that had healed abnormally. In September 2011, the defendant spoke with the victim’s mother and told her the victim was “acting possessed” and “banging her head against the wall.” The victim’s mother cleverly suggested her daughter receive a spiritual blessing with the aim of using the ceremony as a way to check on her daughter. Defendant also spoke with a friend around this time who heard moaning in the background over the phone and told defendant to take the victim to the hospital. Continue reading

Gravity knife law upheld by CA2 against facial challenge

In Copeland v. Vance (2d Cir. 6/22/2018) (Katzmann, C.J.) (3-0), a unanimous panel of the Second Circuit upheld New York’s ban on gravity knives—and the “wrist flick” test to determine whether a knife falls under the statute—against a facial challenge.

Plaintiffs claimed that New York’s gravity knife statute, Penal Law §§ 265.01(1) and 265.00(5), was void for vagueness because “ordinary people cannot reliably identify legal knives.”  The statute defines a gravity knife as “any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device.”

Initially, the court had to decide whether the plaintiffs had brought an “as-applied” or “facial” challenge, since that would determine the test to be applied. Continue reading

Does the “place of business” exception of possession of a firearm cover all employees?

Under Penal Law § 265.03, it is a Class C violent felony to possess an unlicensed firearm. However, New York’s Legislature crafted an exception for the possession of an unlicensed firearm in an individual’s home or “place of business;” if the exception applies, the offense becomes a misdemeanor. In People v. Wallace (Ct. App. 5/8/2018) (Feinman, J.) (6-1-0) the Court of Appeals held that lower courts should read the “place of business” exception narrowly. Accordingly, the court explained that this exception does not protect any employee who is caught with an unlicensed firearm while at work, rather it only protects those “who have a greater interest in protection of their premises, principal control over said premises, and a strong tie to the continued safety and security of their establishment and the goods and services they offer.”

This case stems from an incident where an assistant manager of a McDonalds in Buffalo shot himself in the leg after a gun in his pocket discharged. Upon arrest, the defendant was charged with CPW 2º.  Continue reading