Tag Criminal Defense

NYT: Parents’ Minor Marijuana Arrests Lead to Child Neglect Cases

The New York Times reports today that “[h]undreds of New Yorkers who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana, or who have simply admitted to using it, have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases in recent years, though they did not face even the least of criminal charges, according to city records and defense lawyers. A small number of parents in these cases have even lost custody of their children.” Mosi Secret, No Cause for Marijuana Case, But Enough for Child Neglect, N.Y. Times, Aug. 18, 2011, at A1:

The police found about 10 grams of marijuana, or about a third of an ounce, when they searched Penelope Harris’s apartment in the Bronx last year. The amount was below the legal threshold for even a misdemeanor, and prosecutors declined to charge her. But Ms. Harris, a mother whose son and niece were home when she was briefly in custody, could hardly rest easy.

The police had reported her arrest to the state’s child welfare hot line, and city caseworkers quickly arrived and took the children away.

Her son, then 10, spent more than a week in foster care. Her niece, who was 8 and living with her as a foster child, was placed in another home and not returned by the foster care agency for more than a year. Ms. Harris, 31, had to weather a lengthy child neglect inquiry, though she had no criminal record and had never before been investigated by the child welfare authorities, Ms. Harris and her lawyer said.

“I felt like less of a parent, like I had failed my children,” Ms. Harris said. “It tore me up.”

The article also reports that marijuana is “the most common illicit drug in New York City: 730,000 people, or 12 percent of people age 12 and older, use the drug at least once annually, according to city health data…. Over all, the rate of marijuana use among whites is twice as high as among blacks and Hispanics in the city, the data show, but defense lawyers said these cases were rarely if ever filed against white parents.”

Ridiculous, but not illegal

Wearing saggy pants that hang from your thighs and expose your underwear may be ridiculous, but it is not illegal, a Bronx judge has ruled.

“While most of us may consider it distasteful, and indeed foolish, to wear ones pants so low as to expose the underwear … ‘people can dress as they please, wear anything, so long as they do not offend public order and decency,'” Criminal Court Judge Ruben Franco wrote in People v. Martinez, 2009SX048784.

In April 2009, defendant Julio Martinez received a summons because, as the arresting officer wrote, Martinez wore “his pants down below his buttocks exposing underwear [and] potentially showing private parts.”

The sole charge was disorderly conduct and the sole factual allegation was that the defendant wore his pants troublesomely low.

Penal Law §240.20(7) defines “disorderly conduct” as intentionally “caus[ing] public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creat[ing] the risk thereof [by creating] a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act serving no legitimate purpose.”

… The judge cited a Wikipedia article, which defines “sagging” as “a manner of wearing trousers … below the waist, hanging below the waist area and therefore revealing much of the underwear.”

Lawmakers in Atlanta and Louisiana, among other places, have proposed banning the low-slung style. In New York, however, the right to wear pants as low as one wishes, so long as decency is not offended, remains unabated, the judge concluded.

“The Constitution still leaves some opportunity for people to be foolish if they so desire,” Franco wrote, quoting People v. Gorman, 274 N.Y. 284.

(via New York Law Journal)

Indigent Defense: Caseload Standards

Professor Steven Zeidman (director of the Defenders Clinic at CUNY School of Law) has an op-ed in today’s New York Law Journal on the “series of seemingly unconnected events” (renewed legislative and executive interest, and an opportunity for the judiciary to intervene in Hurrell-Harring, et al. v. State of New York) that “has created a historic opportunity” for New York to more fully actualize the constitutional right to counsel in criminal cases almost 50 years ago in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963):

Given this historic convergence of attention and opportunity regarding indigent defense, any attempt to create standards for ensuring effective indigent representation must be carefully scrutinized…. Numbers should not be the only, nor primary, way to assess defense attorney effectiveness. Imposing numerical standards is not a magic elixir that will suddenly transform the state of indigent defense practice. The problems run deep and can only be addressed through searching inquiry into the nature of indigent defense practice.

What are the component parts of quality defense lawyering? What are the institutional norms and loyalties that impact public defenders? What are the prevailing attitudes of public defenders toward their clients, their work and what is means to be a zealous advocate? What do the accused, the consumers of indigent defense services, have to say about their lawyers? What is it that should make us confident that public defenders will provide dramatically better representation simply by virtue of having 10, 20 or 50 fewer cases in a year?

Steven Zeidman, Indigent Defense: Caseload Standards, N.Y. Law Journal, Mar. 24, 2010.

New York’s “inadequate” public defense system

William Glaberson has another article in today’s New York Times on the upcoming class action lawsuit at the Court of Appeals arguing against New york state to overhaul its indigent defense system (William Glaberson, The Right to Counsel, N.Y. Times, Mar. 21, 2010, at LI1). Today’s piece is the “story of this one defendant and her public defender, assembled through interviews and court records. . . about a woman who was barely making it before the legal system helped shove her off track.”

NYT: Brooklyn Judges Struggle Not to Send Juveniles to Prison

The juvenile incarceration system is wrecked, and there are no easy solutions. An excerpt from this morning’s New York Times:

Standing to address Judge Daniel Turbow in Family Court in Brooklyn, a city prosecutor confidently listed the reasons why the 16-year-old boy in the courtroom should be sent upstate to a juvenile prison.

He was a member of the Bloods, the prosecutor said, and he later joined another gang. He was arrested once for grand larceny and twice for assault. He went to school drunk and spat on the dean of students.

“He admits to going out to Bergen Beach to rob people,” the prosecutor continued, as the courtroom fell silent. “He stated that this is the way that he gets his money.”

Judge Turbow, looking anguished, was still reluctant to issue the harshest penalty: sending the teenager to a juvenile prison run by the state.