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President Obama Commutes Sentences of Low-Level Drug Offenders

President Obama has reacted to a slow-moving Congress by commuting the sentences of eight convicted crack offenders who were issued unduly harsh sentences. Additionally, in accordance with Obama’s wishes, the Office of the Attorney General recently requested that defense lawyers identify federal prisoners who are still incarcerated on outdated drug charges and apply for clemency in the form of commuted sentences. While delivering a speech at a New York State Bar Association meeting, Deputy Attorney General James Cole highlighted the many “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who remain in prison, and who would likely have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of precisely the same offenses today.” Cole specifically called on the New York State Bar Association “to assist potential candidates for executive clemency.” As recently as 2010, there was a 100-to-one disparity between federal sentencing for crack cocaine offenses and federal sentencing for power cocaine offenses. Congress recognized the inherent injustice of the disparity by passing the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced the disparity to 18-to-one. However, the changed sentencing guidelines were not retroactive, which meant that prisoners convicted under the old sentencing guidelines still had to serve their sentences in entirety. In fact, it has taken Congress more than three years to begin to codify into law what would seem to be common sense. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would grant authority to courts to reevaluate the sentences of prisoners convicted of crack cocaine offenses prior to passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. The Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity Disproportionately Punishes African Americans Since members of low-income and African-American communities are more likely to be arrested for crack cocaine offenses, the sentencing disparity has been viewed by many social groups as racially biased. Importantly, Attorney General Eric Holder explicitly recognized the

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Cuomo Plans to Raise the Juvenile Criminal Responsibility Age in NY

 New York is one of only two states that prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. This has a major societal impact because nearly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are arrested in New York annually. In his State of the State address earlier this year, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. Cuomo’s hope is that keeping young juvenile offenders in the juvenile system will make rehabilitation more likely. One of the major problems with the current law in New York is that it makes no distinction between violent offenses and non-violent offenses. This means that judges and prosecutors have no discretion when deciding whether to prosecute a 16-year-old as an adult. NY prosecutors must prosecute all 16-year-old offenders as adults, even when the crime is a misdemeanor. Instead of receiving the help and counseling they need, juveniles are sent to adult jails and prisons. Being housed in adult prisons can have a number of negative consequences, including: Recidivism: Juvenile offenders are more likely to be trained and become “hardened” criminals when living in close quarters with adult criminals. Emotional damage: Juveniles who are separated from the adult prison population and placed into solitary confinement emerge from incarceration with emotional problems. Suicide: A study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that the suicide rate for juveniles in adult jails was 7.7 times higher than for juveniles housed in juvenile detention centers. Sexual abuse: A juvenile offender is at greater risk of sexual abuse if he or she is the youngest inmate on the block. Another negative consequence of the current NY law is that minorities are disproportionately impacted by the lower age limit. Data from arrest records indicates that roughly 30 percent of black men

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NY Gov. Announces Plan to Legalize Medical Marijuana Use

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to use his administrative powers to legalize the medical use of marijuana for chronically ill patients in New York. In his State of the State speech, Cuomo declared that medical marijuana “can help manage pain and treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses.” Under Cuomo’s plan, up to 20 hospitals will be allowed to dispense marijuana to patients suffering from severe ailments. According to administration officials, the new policy will be less permissive than the recent policies in other states such as Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal, and California, where doctors are allowed to prescribe marijuana for backaches and insomnia. Administration officials noted that hospitals dispensing marijuana in New York will be subject to strict NY State Department of Health standards. According to Cuomo, the plan will have “stringent research protocols and eligibility requirements.” Cuomo is taking an executive action in large part because Republicans in the NY Senate have thus far blocked legislation that would legalize medical marijuana. For example, the state Assembly recently passed the Compassionate Care Act, which would have regulated and taxed medical marijuana; however, the state Senate blocked its passage into law. Legalized medical marijuana in New York could greatly benefit cancer patients and their families. Dr. Brian Durkin, director of the Center for Pain Management at Stony Brook University Medical Center, says that as many as 50 percent of cancer patients who eventually die of the disease are suffering from moderate-to-severe pain. With government and state health officials needing to take time to research the feasibility of the plan, it could be more than a year before any NY hospitals are allowed to prescribe marijuana to patients. And, in all likelihood, it will take even longer for the state legislature to approve medical marijuana. In the

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Protect Yourself Against Credit Card Fraud & Identity Theft

Recent data breaches at Target and Snapchat are causing people all over the world to think twice about how secure their passwords and pins are when it comes to credit cards and online applications. The US Secret Service and the federal Justice Department are currently investigating the Target data breach. According to authorities, hackers accessed the Target data from Nov. 27 through Dec. 15. It wasn’t until December 18 that banks and credit card companies learned of the breach. Target waited until December 19 to notify consumers. After a senior payments executive at Target confirmed that customers’ encrypted personal identification numbers (PINs) were stolen during the breach, many are now on high alert for identify theft. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly 370,000 identity theft complaints in 2012. However, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, a consultant to the financial services industry, this number represented just a fraction of the total number of identity thefts that actually occurred in the US. Identity theft can destroy a person’s name, their credit rating, and their permanent criminal record. The negative effects of having one’s identity stolen can last a lifetime because resolving the situation can be a difficult, time-consuming process. Credit card fraud and identity theft can happen to anyone. However, there are measures you can take to make yourself less vulnerable to credit card fraud. These include: Password protection: Strengthen your passwords so that they are more difficult for hackers to access. Use different passwords for different sites. Try to change your passwords and PINs every month. Save receipts: Do not carelessly discard any documents that have your personal information on them Inspect your credit card and checking account statements throughout the month: Do not wait until the end of the month to find out if your information has been

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New York Faces Tax Implications if Online Gambling is Approved

New York Faces Tax Implications if Online Gambling is Approved While New York voters recently approved a major expansion of brick and mortar casinos, it’s still illegal to gamble online if you live in the Empire State. If New York follows NJ’s lead and legalizes online gambling, there would be major tax implications for NY gamblers. For perhaps the first time, the government would have the ability to effectively enforce tax laws related to online gambling winnings. Since website operators would likely be required to verify the identities of players on the websites, “winners” would be forced to pay state and federal taxes. It Doesn’t Matter If It’s Illegal; You Still Have to Pay Taxes Even though the federal government has yet to sanction Internet gambling, your online winnings are still subject to federal taxation. This is because even illegal income is taxable. Gambling winnings are always taxable income. IRS section 61(a) defines “gross income” as all income from whatever source derived. Most importantly for online gamblers, the IRS makes no distinction between online gambling winnings and winnings at brick and mortar casinos. Professional gamblers are allowed to write off their gambling losses, with the potential to use losses to write off other income subject to taxation. However, the IRS distinguishes between professional gamblers and recreational gamblers; the majority of online poker players are considered recreational gamblers. You can still write off any losses that you incur, but you can only use your gambling losses to offset other taxable income. There are harsh penalties for failing to pay taxes on gambling winnings. If you are audited, the IRS could discover unreported income. If you are caught withholding income, you will be subject to severe punishments, including tax penalties, interest, and prison time. State tax laws are even more restrictive. In

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The Proliferation of “Revenge Porn” Websites in NY

Breakups can be incredibly difficult. Many times, hurt feelings are involved. As a result, sometimes the end of a relationship is just the beginning of a person’s problems. A breakup might cause a spurned party to engage in dangerous and scary behavior, including harassment and stalking. In the social media era of text messaging, social networking, and emailing, angry exes now have another avenue to “get back” at former lovers. “Revenge porn” websites have are becoming more and more popular as jilted romantic partners target ex-girlfriends or ex-spouses by posting nude photos of them on websites. Many times, the photos are accompanied by text that names the victim and provides details such as contact information and home and work addresses. Unscrupulous website owners have made this kind of abuse possible by setting up shop in the “revenge porn” market and providing a forum for angry exes to post compromising photos. These websites offer services that come dangerously close to extortion by asking embarrassed subjects of nude photos to provide payments (often totaling hundreds of dollars) in exchange for having their photos taken down. Revenge Porn Can Destroy a Person’s Life Suffering the indignity of having private nude photos disseminated on the Internet can cause humiliation and shame. It can also lead to lost job opportunities in the immediate and long-term future. The photos might show up on simple Google searches. Worst of all, revenge porn can haunt the victim forever because once a photo is posted online it never goes away. Law professor and revenge porn expert Mary Anne Franks describes revenge porn as a “devastating form of virtual sexual assault.” Since revenge-porn websites target ex-girlfriends, the majority of victims are women.  If you have been the victim of domestic violence in NY, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at

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Serious Security Threat Posed by “Plastic Guns”

Serious Security Threat Posed by “Plastic Guns” A federal law banning undetectable firearms since 1988 is about to expire. This is cause for concern among federal law enforcement authorities who fear that new “plastic guns” could pose a unique security and put people at risk in schools, airports, and courthouses. In the technology era, practically anything can be produced with nothing more than a computer and a printer. Remarkably, this is also true of firearms. 3-D industrial printers can now create plastic guns that are unreadable by standard metal detectors. The printing technology enables the building of three-dimensional objects using plastic materials, with the resulting firearm requiring so little metal that it is untraceable by most metal detectors. With the Undetectable Firearms Act About to Expire, There Is an Urgent Need for a Law That Directly Addresses Plastic Guns The potential proliferation of plastic guns coincides with the expiration of the Undetectable Firearms Act, a longtime federal ban on undetectable firearms. The soon-to-expire law requires that anyone manufacturing a gun use a certain amount of metal so that the weapon can be detectable by security scanners. The law was passed in 1988 in response to concerns about the Glock 17, a gun made with composite plastic components. With the current federal law set to expire, there is an urgent need to address the potential threat posed by plastic guns. Democratic representative Steve Israel has answered the call by introducing legislation specifically aimed at prohibiting plastic guns. Democratic senator Chuck Schumer has spoken in support of the proposed law, observing that plastic guns, once thought to be a “hypothetical threat,” are now a “terrifying reality.” Israel’s proposed law even seeks to address a loophole in the current law. The Undetectable Firearms Act allows a person to attach a metal piece to

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The NY Gang Assault Law Isn’t What You Think It Is

The NY Gang Assault Law Isn’t What You Think It Is When one thinks of “gang assault,” images of intimidating youth street gangs or dangerous motorcycle gangs typically spring to mind. For instance, 11 bikers were recently indicted for gang assault in NY after a video of the men allegedly attacking an SUV driver circulated on the Internet. But the NY gang assault law isn’t what you think it is. In fact, the law is a bit of a misnomer because it doesn’t specifically address this kind of “street gang” violence; it actually has a far broader scope. Although the NY gang assault law was written in 1996 in response to escalating youth street gang violence in NYC, the legislature cast a much wider net when drafting the statutes. The NY gang assault law provides enhanced penalties for an assault committed by three or more people. The NY gang assault statutes are meant to punish group assaults that cause severe injury to the victim. Although the language used in the statutes is similar to the language found in the NY felony assault statutes, the NY gang assault law recognizes the greater threat posed by a group committing an assault: Assaults by multiple people are more threatening and more intimidating. The presence of multiple attackers can frighten the victim, which can exacerbate an already-dangerous situation and increase the likelihood that violence will escalate. Group assaults are more dangerous. Severe and possibly lethal injuries are more likely when multiple people are involved in the attack. Assaults by multiple attackers can be as dangerous as assaults involving a deadly weapon. During the debate leading up to passage of the gang assault law, a supporting memorandum from the office of then-New York Gov. George Pataki argued that an assault by multiple persons “is tantamount to committing an assault by means of a deadly weapon.” Harsh Punishments for Assaults

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New York launches special courts for prostitution-related crimes

It has been said that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. Whether or not this is true is a matter of debate. Suffice it to say that prostitution has been around for a very long time, and it is nearly always illegal. But societal attitudes about prostitution are changing in at least one respect. It has long been the case that women acting as prostitutes are prosecuted when caught, just as many pimps and “Johns” are. But New York State is currently in the process of creating specialized prostitution courts that attempt to get women out of the sex trade by treating them as trafficking victims rather than criminals. A New York Times article explains that the 11 Human Trafficking Intervention Courts will handle roughly 95 percent of prostitution and human trafficking cases each year; which tend to number in the thousands. Five of the 11 courts will be situated in New York City’s Five boroughs, and the rest will be distributed across the state. The Times says the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts are based on models established by specialized courts for low-level drug offenses and domestic violence. The goal is to keep women from being repeatedly prosecuted for prostitution by addressing the underlying issues and ultimately getting them out of the sex trade. To that end, defendants may be given access to drug treatment, health care, job training and shelter, among other needed services. It is unclear if or how the creation of these courts will impact the prosecution of those charged with soliciting prostitution or pimping. Such charges can put defendants at great risk of both criminal and non-criminal consequences. Even without a conviction, one’s reputation can be severely damaged by being charged as a John. For this and other reasons, anyone facing prostitution-related criminal charges needs the

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Marijuana-related offenses top FBI’s 2012 crime report

Although America’s war on drugs is still ongoing, the battle against marijuana seems to be changing course. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and two states recently passed laws allowing for recreational use of the drug. That being said, pot is still a highly prosecuted drug. In fact, an annual report published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows that U.S. law enforcement agencies arrest someone for marijuana-related drug crimes every 48 seconds. The FBI report notes that there were approximately 750,000 marijuana arrests in 2012. But it is important to note that seven out of every eight arrests was for simple possession. In response to the report, many here in New York and across the country are expressing outrage at what they consider to be a waste of law enforcement resources and a general disservice to the American people. Many who have read the report are concerned that police and prosecutors are focusing on the wrong crimes. All the time, money and effort spent punishing non-violent drug offenders for using marijuana could arguably be better spent solving violent crimes and keeping the streets safe. Moreover, drug charges on a person’s record can be very damaging to their future job and educational prospects. Commenting on the FBI report, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition said: “These numbers represent a tremendous loss of human potential. Each one of those arrests is the story of someone who may suffer a variety of adverse effects from their interaction with the justice system.” There are many good arguments to be made for legalization of marijuana; including its medical uses and the fact that it may be safer than alcohol in some ways. But even in the absence of legalization, should enforcing marijuana laws be such a high

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