Monday, January 28, 2013

It's that Easy?

Who knew?  Want to get out of jail early?  Try the front door.

Twice in the past year, Rocky Marquez has walked right out the front door of his prison prior to serving his full sentence.  In most jails, each inmate is given a wristband (like a hospital band).  They wear it around their wrist.  It is for identification purposes and helps the guards identify each inmate.  It is also for tracking movements to and from court.

Apparently, it takes away the need for looking at someone's face.  Marquez has twice switched his wristband with an inmate due to be released and walked out the front door pretending to be someone else.  In the latest attempt, authorities did not even notice he was missing for five days.

As a society, we want to reward that "outside the box" thinking.  But I doubt anyone will congratulate Mr. Marquez upon his return.  The real question is how does a person convince an inmate about to be released to stay in jail longer?  I can only think of two things - threats or money.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The "New" New York Gun Laws

In a not-so quiet move, New York State announced "sweeping" gun control legislation last week.  There is plenty of fact and fiction that both pro and anti-gun coalitions are using, so I thought I'd address the highlights of gun laws in New York State.  Both current and the new changes.

It is important to define what a firearm is in New York State.  While there are many guns that fall under the definition of firearm, the ones we are mainly concerned with are pistols, revolvers, and modified/shortened shotguns or rifles.  These are commonly called sawed-off.  

Sale of Firearms

A local and national criminal background check is required for all private firearm, rifle, and shotgun purchases.  

Mandatory Reporting

Mental health professionals are now required to report to the director of community services (who then will forward it to the division of criminal justice services) when they believe one of their patients is going to be a threat to harm themselves or others.  This information is to be used to assess whether that person's firearm license should be suspended or revoked, or if they should be ineligible to apply for one in the future.   

Community Guns

Have you ever heard of a community gun?  I didn't until I began this job.  This is basically where a group of people share one or more firearms to use in crimes.  They stash firearms in alleys, in parks, in backyards, or anywhere else they can safely hide them.  The group of people who share the firearm know where it is so they can have quick access to it when they see a rival gang member or a quick robbery hit.  This is now included in criminal facilitation.  The offense level depends on what crime the user commits with the firearm.

Mark's Law

There have been too many instances of first responders (EMTs and firemen) getting killed in the course of their duty (Mark Davis and Webster Volunteer Fire Department are two examples).  It is now murder in the first degree to intentionally kill one of these first responders who are acting in the course of their duty.  It was already first degree murder to kill police officers, court officers, and other related persons. 

Assault Weapons

The law forbidding possession of assault weapons is broadened.  An assault weapon is defined as any semiautomatic rifle that is capable of accepting a detachable magazine, and has:  (1) a folding or telescoping stock, (2) a pistol grip that protrudes beneath the action of the weapon, (3) a flash suppressor or barrel designed to accept one, (4) a bayonet mount, (5) a grenade launcher, (6) a thumbhole stock, or (7) a second handgrip that can be held by the non-trigger hand.  Assault weapons are also semiautomatic shotguns with one of these characteristics:  (1) a folding or telescoping stock, (2) a pistol grip or second grip that protrudes beneath the action of the weapon, (3) ability to accept a detachable magazine, (4) a thumbhole stock or (5) a fixed magazine that can hold more than 7 rounds.

There are plenty of other assault weapons specifically named in the law and also characteristics for semiautomatic pistols that will make it an assault weapon.  It's too many to mention in this blog post.  


If the magazine can hold more than 7 rounds of ammo, it is now a large capacity feeding device and a possession of it is class "A" misdemeanor.  There are exceptions for people who possessed the magazines prior to the effective date of the legislation.

Guns on School Grounds

It is a class "E" felony to carry an unloaded firearm within 1000 feet of any school, from a pre-school to a college.  It is still a class "C" felony to carry a loaded firearm within 1000 feet of schools.  

Unloaded Guns

It is now an "E" felony to possess an unloaded firearm.  It was a misdemeanor.  It is also a felony to willfully avoid the new registration process if you own a now illegal gun after the effective date of the legislation.

The law is 41 pages long and discusses everything from safe storage of guns, selling and buying, licensing, registering firearms, and the procedure to turn in items that now violate the statute without penalties.  It also provides a small list of people who can apply to avoid having their personal information and permits available for the public record.

It is complicated and a solution that does not resolve all the concerns from either side of the debate.  Illegal handguns are the weapon of choice in most of my cases.  The laws surrounding those are not affected too much by this law.  It is still too easy for people looking to commit crimes to obtain these guns.  Does this law do enough to stop it?  Can you stop it?

More info on New York Gun laws

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Quarterly Case Stats - January 2013

Here's the stats for September through December

Total cases handled: 61 files - Higher than last.  Not sure whether that is good or bad.

Number of pleas taken: 21

Number of cases closed after arrest but before indictment: 8

Main reason why:  Insufficient evidence

Number of cases where guns were used:  34 (more than half.  Yikes).

Saddest case: 14 year old who was an accessory in a robbery awaiting transfer to family court when she was shot and paralyzed.   

Best alibi:  Defendant said he was recovering at home from a surgery at the time of the shooting two months prior to his arrest.  How does he remember?  How can he be sure?  Well, he didn't have use of his arm for some time due to his "falling on a machete."  His words.  Doubtful he fell on it.  This isn't the rain forest, it's the inner city.   

Youngest defendant: 14 (robbery)

Types of cases handled: gun point robberies, burglaries, car thefts, shootings, gun possession, drug possession, attempted murders, murders, vehicular assault

Worst offender(s) of the quarter: A group of young lads who spend three days robbing pizza delivery and taxi drivers.  10 that we know of.  Like it's not hard enough to make some money.

Story that makes you hopeful for the future:  Defendant who pleaded guilty to stealing a car with a four year old in it and then dumping the car to burglarize a garage appeared in court again.  This was over a year after he was sentenced to a program to treat his horrible drug addiction.  The defendant graduated from the program, has a full-time job, and is enrolled in school full-time for engineering.  At his graduation, he profusely thanked his attorney and the judge (rare) and even thanked me (rarer still).

Care to compare?  Check out the prior stats here, here, here, and here.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Why We Confess

I'm a terrible liar.  My lips quiver.  My eyes twitch like I'm watching a tennis match and I cannot hold eye contact of the person I'm lying to.  Not to mention the incredible guilt I feel leading up to and forever following the lie.  It's been this way since I was a child.

Don't believe me?  Ask my wife who will verify that any minor joke I try to pull over on her fails due to my tells.  Anyone want to play poker with me?

Lance Armstrong provided some news that we all already knew or suspected.  I did not watch the interview.  Lance's vehement denials and aggressive defense of his "integrity" when someone had the audacity to speak the truth were enough for this interview to barely register in the must watch category.

But it did get me thinking about why people confess.  It happens every day, in every police station, in jail cells, in bedrooms, and in bars.  People routinely unburden their darkest moments to loved ones and even absolute strangers.  Maybe it's my inability to lie that gives people the notion they can trust me.  It seems that any party I go to and meet someone new, I have their life story complete with faults within minutes.

Why do people confess?  Why tell anyone?  Why not keep the secret that most haunts you in the depths of the night to yourself?  Telling on yourself will only lead to trouble.  An arrest, a divorce, lose a friendship, or destroy a family.  Despite the negative consequences, confessions are as real and likely as the fact the sun will rise tomorrow.

One of the largest reasons people confess is guilt.  Guilt is caused by mental stress.  Does the cheating husband worry that his dalliance will be discovered every waking minute?  What about the man who murdered his neighbor?  Or the drunk driver who hits a pedestrian and takes off?  The fear of being discovered and stress that causes creates guilt.  It manifests itself physically and mentally for as long as the stress lasts, causing agitation and physical problems.  There are common clues in everyone that detectives can use to obtain a confession.  Many times the only way to relieve the stress and guilt is to unburden yourself to another person, even for just a moment.  The relief of confessing, of letting someone else share the weight of guilt, can cloud the vision of probable consequences.

What are some of the other reasons?  Some people feel an urge to explain themselves and their behavior.  Others think that confessing will absolve them of all liability (she won't divorce me, or they won't arrest me when they see how small my role was).  The braggart exists too.  Someone trying to impress his friends or look tough in the jail will also tell of his prior exploits and usually those friends are only too happy to retell those exploits to a jury if it will help them out.

Confessions in the criminal world need to be corroborated.  Anyone can confess to anything.  It is necessary to obtain details during the confession that only the actual culprit would know.  Good detectives will use the physical and mental cues and motivations for confessing to get a confession.  In my experience, most confessions come from relaxed environments where the detective is treating the suspect respectfully.  It is more like a parishioner speaking to a priest then.

Lance provides a different reason.  His motivation to confess is purely selfish.  There is a documented history of forgiveness with our athletes and celebrities.  We all love a redemption story.  The first part of the redemption process is admitting wrong-doing.  Once we see our beloved figures are human and capable of mistakes, we find ways to forgive them.  The evidence was too strong against Lance for him to continue to deny it any longer.  My guess is that a publicist or someone close to him finally got through to him and explained that the only way to build himself back up is to be honest and humbled.  He tried and confessed to the confession queen, Oprah.

I'm apathetic about the entire situation.  I loved the story when he was winning the races, and I never believed his accusers until recently.  On the other hand, he has done so much for cancer research, something that affects me deeply, that I am extremely appreciative for his foundation and the half a billion dollars it raised.  It's the old moral question - does the end justify the means?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

David Ogilvy's Tips to Improve Your Writing

I stumbled upon a man by the name of David Ogilvy.  He is said to be the father of advertising.  He was one of those 1950-1960 ad executives portrayed on television.  He sent this memo to his employees to try to improve their writing.  It was probably for his sake as the reader as much as for their sake as a writer.  You can find this and more from Ogilvy in an out of print edition of The Unpublished David Ogilvy.  

He says that good writing is not a natural gift and we must practice to write well.  That's reassuring to everyone, like me, who is striving to be a better writer.  Also, I wish people still used the word woolly.  See below.

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing (Writing That Works; How to Communicate Effectively In Business book). Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassificationattitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Flippin the Bird

It seems even judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals need to have a little fun.  Remember they are one step below the Supreme Court.

Quick synopsis of a recent case:

1) John and Judy Swartz were driving in St. Johnsville, NY,
2) Officer Insogna was using radar to detect speeders,
3) John extended his middle finger to express his displeasure at the officer's methods,
4) Officer Insogna started a traffic stop,
5) John did not want to give Officer Insogna any paperwork, but Judy provided her license,
6) Officer Insogna returned the documents to Judy and told John and Judy they could leave as he had no reason to ticket them,
7) John asked to speak to Officer Insogna "man to man",
8) Another officer heard John say something under his breath and then arrested John, giving him an appearance ticket for disorderly conduct.

John filed a suit alleging the officers violated his civil rights by arresting him for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.  The District Court dismissed the suit and the Second Circuit reinstated it in this opinion.  The best part about the opinion is the centuries-long history of the middle finger provided:

     See Bad Frog Brewery, Inc. v. New York State Liquor Authority, 134 F.3d 87, 91 n.1 (2d Cir.  
     1998) (reporting the use of the gesture by Diogenes to insult Demosthenes). Even earlier, 
     Strepsiades was portrayed by Aristophanes as extending the middle finger to insult Aristotle. See 
     Aristophanes, The Clouds (W. Arrowsmith, trans., Running Press (1962)). Possibly the first 
     recorded use of the gesture in the United States occurred in 1886 when a joint baseball team 
     photograph of the Boston Beaneaters and the New York Giants showed a Boston pitcher giving the 
     finger to the Giants. See Ira P. Robbins, Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law , 41 
     U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1403, 1415 (2008).

The officer said he stopped John's car for three reasons:  1) The gesture “appeared to me he was trying to get my attention for some reason," 2) “I thought that maybe there could be a problem in the car. I just wanted to assure the safety of the passengers,” and 3) “I was concerned for the female driver, if there was a domestic dispute.”

The Court shot this down, stating that the universal and ancient recognition of the middle finger as an insult denies any other interpretation by the officer.  Since the officer did not have any reason to approach the vehicle, the stop was unlawful and they allowed the civil rights suit to proceed.

And who says lawyers are no fun?

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Decision

Remember that?  Well, this post is not about that farce. An actually important decision is made in American courtrooms every day.  One that is of far more importance than Lebron's television special.

It's the decision to be tried by a jury or a judge.  Did you even know a person had a choice?

In New York State, every defendant has a right to be tried by a jury when charged with a misdemeanor or felony.  There are two exceptions:  1) defendants charged with class "B" misdemeanors in New York City, and 2) defendants eligible for youthful offender adjudication and charged with any misdemeanor.  In both those cases, the trial must be a bench, or non-jury, trial.  Criminal Procedure Law 340.40.

The reason for the first exception is mainly to expedite cases through a crowded court system.  It allows prosecutors to reduce charges from class "A" misdemeanors to class "B" misdemeanors and try the case in front of a judge.  A case that would take three days to a week to try can now be tried in an afternoon.  The discretion for this lies solely with the prosecutor though.

A defendant can waive their right to a jury trial in any felony or misdemeanor case that is not murder in the first degree.  It must be done in writing, on the record in open court, and the defendant must answer a litany of question from the judge relating to his understanding of the waiver.  If it is waived, the judge will decide the defendant's guilt.

Why would anyone want to waive the right to a jury trial that our revolutionary forefathers fought so hard for?  Some reasons:

1) The judge has already indicated his/her negative thoughts about the merits of the case,
2) The case is based on legal distinctions that a jury might not understand or care about,
3) The facts of the case might prejudice the jury (e.g. defendant is on parole, has a criminal history, drug/alcohol abuse, clear gang affiliation), or
4) The judge might be more inclined to convict of a lesser charge

In New York, if the defendant wishes to waive his right to a jury trial, the prosecution's position does not matter.  In federal court, both the prosecution and defendant must consent to waive a jury trial.

Waiving a jury trial is only appropriate in a limited number of cases.  There are plenty of negative consequences.  Only one person is making the decision, not twelve citizens with no legal training and no familiarity with each other.  Arguments on appeal are significantly reduced.  Generally, both the defense attorney and the prosecutor agree to admit certain evidence and stipulate to some testimony leaving less room for cross-examination.

A person facing the prospect of criminal prosecution has many decision to make before arriving at the ultimate question - bench or jury.  Once there, a candid conversation with their attorney is warranted concerning the merits of a jury and bench trial.

The reason this topic came to me is that I prepped for a jury trial for the last two weeks.  It was slated to begin this week, but the defense attorney waived a jury trial the day before it was set to begin.  I always feel relieved and disappointed when this happens.  The relief is because I do not have to put on a show and have my every move scrutinized by twelve strangers for a week.  The disappointment is because I really love when I get to put on a show and get scrutinized by strangers.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Interesting Sex Crime Statistics

From The Enliven Project, comparing the number of falsely accused rapists and the number of convicted rapists.  The data comes from the National Crime Victimization Survey and FBI reports.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Legal Jobs - The Big Firm

A friend agreed to answer some questions about the life of an associate at a large, nationally rated law firm and the interview process to get there.  He asked to remain anonymous.  Much like my job, the bosses have the ability to say what they want.  Those trying to get there, need to be more careful.  Here are some of my questions and his responses:

1) Describe the typical interview process

Coming out of law school, it is typically a multi-round, multiple-day process. It generally begins with an on-campus interview with attorneys who graduate from your law school. This round of interviews is done to whittle down the list of potential candidates. If you are selected for a follow-up interview, you are invited to the firm's offices for a series of interviews with various attorneys from across the firm. In my experience, this part of the process usually is completed in one day, but can sometimes take longer, depending upon scheduling and the position involved.

2) What kind of credentials are major firms looking for? 

The academic credentials sought include graduation from a respected law school, solid grades, law review, and participation in other extracurriculars, such as moot court or mock trial. 

The intangibles that are sought include a keen intellect, varied outside interests, an engaging personality, and a strong work ethic.

3) Can you negotiate salary?

Typically not right out of law school. Most big firms have a set starting salary that they are reluctant to modify. After completing your first year (and each year after that), however, there is an opportunity to receive raises that vary based on your performance. There are generally more opportunities to negotiate your compensation the longer you have been practicing. 

4) What kind of hours are expected? (Billable and office hours)

In virtually every large firm of which I am aware, there is a minimum billable hour requirement (which tends to range from 1700 to 1900 annually). Some firms also have non-billable requirements or goals for certain activities, such as marketing and pro bono representations. 

Office hour requirements vary by firm, and even by department. My personal experience is that there is a lot of flexibility in this regard. If you are up before the sun, you can arrive at work at 6:30 am and leave on the earlier side in the evening. If you are more of a night owl, you can come in mid-morning and leave later in the evening. But this flexibility is not unlimited.  Partners expect associates to be available during the core of the business day, Monday through Friday. Also, do not expect a 9 to 5, no weekend schedule. Such hours are ordinary course for new associates in large firms.

(Editor's Note - 1900 billable hours a year equates to 38 billable hours per week, assuming two weeks vacation a year.  That means in every work week, an associate must bill at least 38 hours to a client for work they have done).

5) Can you branch out from your department and try other types of law?

To some extent. Newer attorneys are generally encouraged to develop their own niche. To the extent this overlaps with work performed by other groups or implicates other areas of law, newer attorneys are free, and usually encouraged, to pursue it.  By contrast, it is rare to start in one area of law within a firm (e.g., tax) and end up in a different area (e.g., litigation) within the same firm. Once you are an associate attorney in one department, it is difficult to shift to an unrelated group. 

6) How does a summer internship compare with associate life?

No comparison. The summer associate program is designed to be fun for the summer associate as well as the attorneys at the firm who are involved with it. You can expect to perform some work (the level of work will vary depending on the firm), but every summer associate can expect to attend numerous meals, events, and cultural activities during their summer associate experience. 

The real work begins once you have completed the bar exam and start at the firm as a first-year associate. Expect this to be much different than the summer associate experience.

7) What is a typical day like?
There is no typical day. Everyday is different in important respects. And no day ever goes according to plan. It only takes one phone call or email to entirely change the complexion of a day. The one constant, however, is the work -- lots of it.

This can be both stressful and rewarding at the same time, but it is always varied. 

8) Advantages of firm life? Disadvantages?

Advantages include the compensation, intellectually challenging work, and ability to work with well known clients. Another advantage is the depth of resources available to you by virtue of working at a large firm. Have a question regarding an obscure tax or employee benefits regulation? Chances are you have a colleague who is an expert and can answer your question in a few minutes. 

Disadvantages include the hours of work necessary to succeed. Make no mistake, most of the attorneys who excel at large firms are workaholics who make tremendous personal sacrifices to achieve the success they have. Having personally witnessed many instances of this, I can say that it can be, at various times, exceptionally motivating and poignantly tragic. To witness the sacrifices some make, and the impact these sacrifices have on families, friends, and loved ones, has left an indelible mark on me. 

9) Should there be a focus on certain types of classes in law school?

While I am no expert on law school pedagogy, I would have benefited from more intensive legal writing courses as well as more classes that focused on the practical aspects of practicing law. Theory has an important place in the law school curriculum, and I enjoyed this aspect of law school the most, but at the end of the day, a law school must graduate practice-ready lawyers who will be prepared to help their clients address real-world legal problems.

10) Mock Trial or Moot Court? And why?
I would do both, if at all possible. I participated in multiple moot courts while in law school (none, unfortunately, with the author of this blog), but did not participate in mock trial. The skills I honed in moot court were practical and skills I applied once I began practicing. But when it came time to undertake my first administrative trial, I felt unprepared. Presenting a factual case to a trier of fact turned out to be much different than debating fine points of law before a panel of lawyers acting as appellate judges. So, if I could change something about my law school experience, I would have attempted to make time to participate in mock trial. The practical skills that it builds would have been useful for me to have starting out as a new associate.

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, my friend. 

Please feel free to comment or email with any other questions and look forward to additional posts on more careers.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Job Options for Law Students

We'll begin this series next week due an increasingly busy week.  Have a good weekend.  For now, here's two posts on the topic of District Attorney's to satiate you.

How to Become an Assistant District Attorney
How to Create an Assistant District Attorney

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is Law School Worth It?

Lawrence Mitchell, Dean of Case Western Reserve University's law school says it is.  Check it out here.

While reading this and checking some old posts, I discovered I've posted a lot about whether or not to go to law school.  So, instead of rehashing old statements into a new post, I'll just link to them so you can see my opinion.

To Be a Lawyer
To Go or not to Go
Be a Student of Loans
Should I Go to Law School

This was prompted by a flurry of recent emails from law students and recent grads struggling to find work.  I've been thinking about adding a law student/recent grad component to the site for awhile.  Any of you readers/followers please comment or email about what you would like to see.  In the next few posts, I will discuss the types of jobs law students can seek and the advantages or disadvantages of each.  Also, most importantly, how to get the job.