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New York Legal Blog

Prisoner holding times and the right to receive a speedy trial

Every person accused of a crime will remain innocent until -- and only if -- he or she is proved to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt in court. However, when police arrest someone for allegedly committing a crime, the individual will temporarily lose the right to freedom.

In a lot of cases, suspected criminals can get released from jail and maintain their freedom until their trial concludes. However, there are also numerous instances when a court will continue to detain an accused person due to a flight risk or other reasons.

Prisoners' Rights Practice

It's been a busy month for our prisoners' rights practice! The Sivin & Miller team was in The Bronx for two Riker's Island prisoner abuse cases as well as upstate New York to conduct extremely complicated federal court ordered discovery on several cases arising out of prison guard brutality at Attica and other upstate prisons. Both Riker's Island cases ended with huge success! One, a civil rights deliberate indifference case, settled on the eve of trial. It involved a corrections officer who stood by for several minutes as he observed our client (who weighed 140 pounds and was in a drug treatment program) get beaten by a larger and stronger prisoner. Our client's jaw was broken in two places and required surgery to install permanent plates and screws to keep his jaw stable. The other Riker's Island case, a civil rights excessive force case, was decided by a jury after a four day trial. Our client was beaten, while handcuffed, by a gang of corrections officers who were concerned that our client would snitch on one of their fellow officers. The one officer whom plaintiff was able to identify denied the allegations, but the jury correctly saw otherwise and decided in favor of our client with both a very well thought out compensatory damages award and an award for PUNITIVE DAMAGES against the defendant corrections officer. We were pleased with the outcome and excited to see the jury send a message to the Department of Corrections.

Alleged police misconduct: Did a Baltimore officer plant drugs?

A Baltimore police officer has been accused of planting evidence at the scene of an arrest. The accusations come following police body camera footage that appears to show the officer throwing a bag of illegal drugs on the ground near where officers arrested a man on drug charges in January.

In the video, the officer turns on his body camera and walks into an alley, where he finds a small bag of white capsules. However, 30 seconds before the officer turns on his body camera, some footage remains -- due to the way Baltimore body cameras save their footage. In this footage, which doesn't have sound, the officer can be seen throwing a small baggie down on the ground, before he returns to collect it.

How does the Fourth Amendment protect me?

The Fourth Amendment is all about search and seizure and personal privacy as it applies to criminal law. If a law enforcement officer violates the Fourth Amendment in order to obtain evidence that will be used against you in criminal court, for example, this evidence may be thrown out and cannot be used against you.

Let's take a quick look at the areas where the Fourth Amendment has jurisdiction

Why body-worn cameras are not 100 percent effective

On the surface, it seems like a great idea for police officers in New York to wear body cameras, which would track their movements and behaviors and keep them accountable for abuses. That is in theory, at least. In practice, police officers do not always have their cameras on, and they can turn them on and off deliberately and with calculation.

In Minneapolis, police officers are now required to turn on their cameras as soon as they begin responding to a 911 call (this after the killing of an unarmed woman). In Baltimore, meanwhile, a body camera appears to have caught a police officer planting drugs (the officer apparently did not know the camera evidence would be preserved).

False imprisonment versus shopkeeper's privilege

No one is legally permitted to imprison or detain another person without very good reason for doing so. However, when it comes to potential shoplifters and a shopkeeper's right to detain someone suspected of stealing from a store, shopkeepers benefit from what is referred to as "shopkeeper's privilege."

According to shopkeeper's privilege, a shopkeeper may detain a suspected shoplifter for a reasonable period of time if, given the circumstances, the there exist reasonable grounds to do so. The notion of "reasonableness," however, is highly subject to interpretation. As such, there could be some argument in court over whether a particular shopkeeper's detention of an individual was reasonable.

Understanding the 4th Amendment

American citizens are guaranteed certain rights within the United States Constitution. One of those rights is in the 4th Amendment, which protects citizens against unlawful searches and seizures.

Police officers may not always stay on the right side of the law, either intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, it is up to New York citizens to educate themselves about their rights. All people should understand what protections the 4th Amendment provides, and understanding it more thoroughly may help one day.

How video evidence helps to combat police brutality

For decades, police in New York have -- literally in some cases -- gotten away with murder due to the fact that there aren't always witnesses or evidence of the police brutality they commit against the public. However, this is changing due to the use of video evidence recorded by citizen cellphones and surveillance cameras.

Out of 4,426 recent complaints of police brutality in New York, 794 of them utilized video evidence as proof. These complaints were all filed in 2016. This number is starkly different from the 4,268 complaints filed in 2012 because only 43 of them included video evidence.

How do you file a complaint against a corrections officer?

Have you been the victim of a civil rights violation by a New York correction's officer?

Correction officers are expected to behave according to a certain mode of professional behavior. If you have a grievance against an officer due to sexual abuse, physical assault or some other issue of misconduct, there is a method to file a complaint.

Can I film police officers?

One way that police abuses such as excessive force come to light is through videotape. However, you may be wondering if you could get in legal trouble for attempting to tape an encounter with a police officer.

The answer is that you are probably fine to tape. After all, a New York City police department spokesperson said in 2016 that their officers have been told that being taped is fine as long as the taping is not obstructive. That said, the number of complaints about police officers trying to stop video recording indicates that not all officers follow policy in this area.

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