Against Criminal Charges
Why Do You Practice Criminal Law?
I was very fortunate because even at a young age, I knew that I wanted to be a criminal lawyer. When I was a kid, Clarence Darrow was my hero and all through high school and college, in my yearbook people would always say that I was going to be a future criminal lawyer. Unlike most criminal lawyers, I went to top national schools. I was at Columbia, which is an Ivy League school and my law school was NYU, which is in the top six law schools in the country. It is somewhat unusual for people with those backgrounds to go into criminal law. Most of them will try to do something that can be more lucrative, but to me, criminal law was always my passion. I have been doing it my entire life and I feel very lucky to have spent my whole career doing what I love, as opposed to just doing something to make a living.
What Are The Common Criminal Cases That You Handle?
Over the years, the types of cases that you practice tend to change. These days, we do a lot of domestic violence cases, a lot of cases involving handguns, particularly people inadvertently bringing handguns to New York and getting arrested. We handle probably half of all the cases of people that are arrested at the La Guardia or JFK airports for having a handgun. It is very rewarding because these are people who have no idea that they are committing a crime. They get charged with a very serious charge and it is gratifying to be able to help them avoid a criminal record of any kind. Other than that, we run the entire gamut of criminal cases. We have been doing it long enough that we really have expertise in just about every field of criminal law.
What Are The Main Differences Between A Misdemeanor And A Felony Charge?
Misdemeanors are actually defined as charges or charges that carry a maximum sentence of one year in prison or less. Felonies are, by definition, cases that have a maximum sentence of more than a year and are subject to state prison sentences. Class E felonies are the lowest level felonies and are punishable up to four years in prison. Felonies go up to A felonies, which are murder and a few other charges that are subject to mandatory life imprisonment or up to life imprisonment.
Beyond that, felonies have additional classifications, e.g. whether they are violent or non-violent felonies. The big difference is that all violent felonies have minimum prison sentences as opposed to non-violent felonies where, in most cases, it is possible to receive a sentence of probation if you are convicted. Obviously, felony cases are much more severe than the misdemeanor cases. They are handled in a higher court which, in New York, is called the Supreme Court. Misdemeanors are handled in the lower court called the Criminal Court.
As I said, the degree of severity between the two is very large. If you are convicted of a felony, you lose many of your rights as a citizen, you lose the right to engage in various professions and you lose many of your rights as a citizen. And in New York, unlike most states, there is no process to expunge the record (except recently, certain drug convictions). So it is extremely important to try and avoid a felony record if at all possible.
What Are Some Mistakes That May Incriminate People Or Harm Their Case?
Speaking to the police or to the district attorney is by far the most common and serious mistake. In Queens, we have something unique that is not done anywhere else that I know of. When you get arrested in Queens for a felony, before you get to see the judge, the district attorney will bring you into a room with a police officer and somebody to video and very nicely ask you if you would like to tell them your side of the story. Once again, you should never do that. You have a right not to talk because it will not help you. Other than that, the only thing that is important is once you have been arrested is to get an attorney or have your family get an attorney right away. Once you have an attorney, neither the police nor the district attorney are allowed to question you.
People like to sit back and say, “Well, let me wait and see what’s going to happen”, and that is the worst thing they can do. The first thing that is going to happen is you are going to be in front of a judge who is going to decide whether to release you without bail, or set bail and decide how much that bail is going to be. If you do not have an attorney there with you who knows as much as possible about your case, you are most likely going to have a higher bail set than if you were represented by a private attorney who is fully familiar with the case and your background and will fight for you. Once that bail is set and if it is too high for you to make to get out, it is almost impossible to get another judge later on to overrule the first judge and lower the bail.
In terms of making mistakes, the most important thing that you can do other than not making any statement is to make sure you have an attorney as soon as possible, not after you see what happens the first time you go to court.
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