December 17th, 2009
We advise our clients not to say anything to police officers if they are pulled over, or are taken into custody. Even seemingly innocuous answers to carefully crafted questions like “Do you know how fast you were going?” or “Are you dealing with some sort of emergency?” can be used to clinch a conviction in what may otherwise been a weak case against a person. This is because when one is being pulled over, he is not being “custodially interrogated,” and therefore the officer does not have to advise someone of their right to remain silent before making incriminating statements.
But recent cases have shown that there are instances, even after one has been incarcerated, where there is no “custodial interrogation,” and one can be questioned without being advised of his right to say “I don’t want to talk.”
The famous Miranda decision allows a defendant to supress his or her own incriminating statements, so that they cannot be used at trial if they were elicited during a “custodial interrogation” without a valid waiver of the Miranda right to remain silent and right to counsel. The background to this rule was discussed earlier in this post.
In order to exclude one’s incriminating statements from evidence, the statements have to have been made without a valid Miranda waiver in the context of police “custody,” and while under “interrogation.” And while the meanings of those two words may seem self evident, they have developed very specific meanings in the Miranda context.
The recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Georgison v. Donelli, reported in this past Thursday’s edition of the New York Law Journal, is a good illustration of how particularly the term “custody” is defined.
While incarcerated at the Riverview Correctional Facility in 1996, New York City police officers were questioning Mr. Georgison regarding the 1993 pipe beating of a truck driver in the Bronx, a matter unrelated to his incarceration. During the conversation, he made some incriminating statements. After making those statements, he indicated that he did not want to talk anymore and walked away. At trial, those statements were then used against him at a trail relating to that beating. He appealed the judge’s decision to admit his statements into evidence, arguing that he was being sbjected to “custodial interrogation” without Miranda warnings, or a waiver of those rights, at the time the statements were made.
His arguments were rejected in this most recent Second Circuit decision. The courts held that “custodial interrogation,” for Miranda purposes, can only exist where a person does not feel free to walk away from the officers questioning him. They held that this was not the case with Mr. Georgison’s interrogation, where he felt that he was at liberty to walk away from the officers when he no longer wanted to speak to them. The courts held that this conduct indicated that he did not feel he was restrained or not at liberty to leave the interrogation, and thus that his interrogation was not “custodial.”
They held that it was irrelevant that he was in a prison, and was unable to freely leave the prison as a whole. Miranda only requires that the person being questioned must feel restrained from leaving the interrogation. Being unable to leave his general surroundings, however, is irrelevant for the purposes of determing the presence or absence of “custodial interrogation.”
Thus, one should consult a competent criminal defense attorney, such as those at The Law Office of Elliot Schlissel, before saying anything to police officers, whether it is in the context of a simple traffic stop, one whether one is already incarcerated. You can contact our office, 24/7, at 800-344-6431 or by e-mail for help or more information.
Picture courtesy of FBI.gov.
December 16th, 2009
Sixty-five years ago, today, marked the beginning of the largest and bloodiest American battle in World War II.
After the tide had already begun to turn in the Allies’ favor, Hitler made one last, desperate attempt to break the American/British advance toward Berlin.
Hitler himself planned the attack for the Ardennes region of Belgium, which was relatively thinly guarded. The plan was to cut off the American and British troops from one another and then cut off the Allies’ only Atlantic supply port in Antwerp, Belgium.
Despite being outgunned by a concentration of the remaining German forces, U.S. troops there were able to slow the German advance, that created the “bulge” in the battle lines, with a tenacious defense. In fact, just one 18 soldier platoon of the 394th Infantry regiment was able to stall a German Tank battalion for a full 20 hours before they were finally captured.
In all, 23,000 American soldiers were captured and 19,000 were killed in the month-long Battle of the Bulge, before the Allied forces finally beat back the German advance and won the battle. Just a few months later, American and British forces from one side, and Russian forces from the other side, rolled into Berlin.
We honor the lives and memories of all of those veterans who gave their lives in defense of liberty.
December 15th, 2009
Many of us know that Chanukah is the Festival of Lights. One way that many communities have tried to spread the light of Chanukah is by holding public Menorah lighting displays in town and city centers throughout the United States and the world.
This raises an interesting question of whether public Menorah lighting ceremonies and public Menorah displays on city property violate the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause,” which prohibits the government from passing a law” respecting the establishment of religion.” The ACLU, among others, has litigated this issue in an attempt to stop people from holding public Menorah lighting ceremonies in public parks or on public property.
When Rabbi Yossi Kaplan, of Chabad of Chester County, PA, applied to place a public Menorah on the property of the Allegheny County Courthouse, the ACLU sued the county to stop them. The two sides ultimately took the case all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States, which issued its decision in favor of Rabbi Kaplan and Allegheny County almost exactly twenty years ago. You can read the decision of County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989).
The court held that given the context in which the Menorah was displayed, it did not appear to either endorse or prohibit a particular religion but, together with the Christmas tree that was also displayed, sent the message that both holidays held a place in the national culture, but fell short of actually endorsing a religion.
Thus, one can find public Menorah lightings in most cities with Jewish communities today.
December 14th, 2009
Nowhere has this policy been made more official than in the Indianapolis traffic courtroom of Judge William Young, whose alleged conduct has brought a class action lawsuit upon him. The suit alleges that when this judge took office, he instituted a policy of levying a $500 fine against anyone who fights their ticket and loses. It further states that he instituted a policy of closing his courtroom to the public, thus shielding his activities from the public eye.
Some plaintiffs were individuals who had received tickets but chose not to challenge them because they asserted that Judge Young’s policy, of fining anyone who challenged their tickets, discouraged them from fighting, even though they thought they were innocent.
While not as egregious as the alleged policies of Judge Young in Indianapolis, recipients of tickets in New York have similarly themed complaints. Often, the structure of the legal system discourages all but a few from fighting even illegitimate tickets.
The court appearances which are required are so numerous and time-consuming that it is almost impossible to fight. Most people don’t understand how the system works and assume that the court date they are given on their ticket is the date when the ticket will be disposed of, either for better or worse. But this is not the reality.
In most localities, the first court date is merely for ”arraignments.” This means that people are simply asked to plead either guilty or not guilty. Often, they are also lulled into feeling more comfortable conceding their case by pleading “guilty with an explanation.” This allows the person to feel that they are at least getting to say something, while still saving the locality the trouble of having to prove guilt. This process can entail wasting several hours, taking off half a day, or wasting an entire evening in court.
If one perseveres and manages to plead “not guilty” on the first court date, he will have to come to court again, but not for an actual determination of guilt or innocence. Rather, he will usually come in for a “conference,” i.e. a meeting between the individual and a local prosecutor. If one makes it this far, most people end up making a plea deal with the prosecutor. So instead of paying, let’s say, $130 for a cell phone ticket+surcharge, you may end up paying only $110. Whoopee!
The prospect of this outcome alone is enough to encourage most people to cut their losses and plead guilty either at their first court appearance, or without even going to court. The time off from work or hours lost waiting in court are often not worth the $20-$30 saved by coming to a plea arrangement with the prosecutor.
For those brave souls who do not come to a plea deal with the prosecutor, there will be a third court appearance for the actual trial. And if you are lucky and the case isn’t adjourned to a fourth date for some reason, that will be your chance to disprove the locality’s case against you and either be found guilty or innocent.
The sheer investment of time and the time one may have to take off from work, depending on the time of the court dates, are enough to discourage most people from challenging their ticket.
For a person with multiple tickets or more serious charges like a misdemeanor or DWI, it is often worthwhile to hire an attorney, like those at our office, to represent him. If you need assistance with a traffic court, criminal, or any other kind of legal matter, you can contact the attorneys at The Law Office of Elliot Schlissel anytime, 24/7, at 800-344-6431, or by e-mail.
Picture courtesy of bizingo.com.
December 11th, 2009
Anthony Davis wrote an article in the New York Law Journal on November 4th summarizing the state of the law with regard to privacy matters when one is using his work computer to send personal e-mails.
The Scott court also held that even if the attorney had a standard notice at the bottom of each e-mail that the contents of the e-mail were to be private between the attorney and the client, that such notice is ineffective to save the communication from the client’s constructive waiver of the privilege resulting from the client’s decision to use his office computer to communicate with his attorney. Thus, the court suggested that attorneys should advise their clients that they should not use their office computers for communications between them, especially if the attorney feels that there is some risk that the employer might have a motivation to look into the employee’s personal e-mails.
On the other hand, a New Jersey court, in Stengart v. Loving Care Agency Inc., 973 A.2d 390 (N.J. Super. A.D. July 29, 2009), came to the opposite conclusion. In that case, the court held that even an employer’s e-mail policy granting it access to all employees’ e-mails on their computers, will not be valid to waive the employee’s attorney-client privilege. The employer-defendant in that case has appealed that case to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which just heard arguments on the case. When that court comes to a decision in the matter, at least New Jersey will have come up with a definitive conclusion on the matter.
For the time being, in New Jersey, and especially in New York, you should not send any e-mails, using one’s work computer, that you would like to keep private. This is especially true if you are writing your attorney regarding a case against the employer on whose computer you are sending the e-mail.
It is better to either wait until you have access to your home computer after work to send private e-mails, or to use a cell phone, iPhone, or (privately owned) Blackberry if you have to send private e-mail during business hours.
As always, if you need help with any kind of personal injury, contract, or other litigation, you can call our office 24/7 at 800-344-6431 or send us an e-mail (not necessarily on your boss’ computer!)
Picture courtesy of The Office Rat.
December 10th, 2009
Reports have been circulating the past few days that Tiger Woods has been in negotiation with his wife Elin to “update” the pre-nuptial agreement to induce her to stay in the marriage after news of several of his extra-marital affairs became public.
Originally, the couple’s pre-nuptial agreement, signed in October of 2004, stipulated that Ms. Nordegren would receive a $20m payment from Mr. Woods after 10 years of marriage, which would have been in the year 2014. But with the recent revelations, news sources have reported that he has offered her an immediate payment of $5m and an additional $55m if she stays with him until October of 2011. The new agreement would reportedly also given her even another $20m if she stayed longer (totaling $80m). It would have also required her to attend public events with him and allow him to show the world (and his corporate sponsors, who are sticking with him so far) that he and Ms. Nordegren had reconciled completely.
These reports make it (mildly) surprising that she left for Sweden this week, thus potentially forfeiting any payment under either the old pre-nuptial agreement or any new agreement. It would definitely be understandable if she simply felt that no amount of money is worth staying in a miserable marriage. Alternatively, her stay overseas may be temporary and the couple will be getting back together. Not much is known publicly at this point.
It is noteworthy that although most news sources are reporting that the couple were in negotiations to sign a new “pre-nuptial agreement,” that term is not the correct one. If a couple who is already married signs the equivalent of a pre-nuptial agreement, it is called a “post-nuptial agreement” because the nuptials have already taken place.
You can always contact the office by phone at 800-344-6431 or by e-mail for questions about pre or post-nuptial agreements, divorce, or any other kind of legal matter.
Picture courtesy of thisisdiversity.com.
December 9th, 2009
Pursuant to EPTL § 3-2.1, a Will can only be probated if it conforms to the following requirements, among others:
- Will must be signed at the end and initialed on every page in front of the witnesses.
- The Will must be signed in the presence of at least 2 witnesses (Some states require 3)
- The witnesses must also sign an attestation clause.
- The “Testator” must “Publish” the Will by saying something like “This is my Will.”
A Probate judge in the Surrogate’s Court may invalidate a will based on several types of objections. If there is proof of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, duress, or undue influence, the Will will be invalid.
“Lack of testamentary capacity” means that the Will signer does not understand that what he’s signing is a Will, that he does not understand the nature and value of his property, does not understand who the natural objects of his bounty are (meaning that normally one’s spouse and children are the natural recipients of his or her property after death), or that he does not understand the nature of the disposition he is making (i.e., to whom he is giving his property in his Will).
A decision came out on Monday which is a great example of someone who successfully used the “lack of testamentary capacity” objection to the probate of a Will. In that case, several siblings of a deceased man successfully blocked the probate of their brother’s Will because he lacked “testamentary capacity.”
As he lay dying in the hospital of liver disease, the man’s x-wife and her lawyer got the him to sign a Will that gave her all of his assets. He died of the disease just three days later. In Matter of Stachiew, 96211/2007/D, a Dutchess County Surrogate’s Court judge denied probate in this case, holding that the proponent of the Will, the x-wife, had failed to prove that the decedent was sufficiently aware of the nature and extent of his property, what he was signing, and how he was changing his testamentary distribution plan through the Will. The judge found that the attorney had induced the decedent to sign the Will without regard for his ability to understand what was going on, and was not convinced by the attorney’s “self-serving” testimony to the contrary.
Cases like this illustrate how important it is that individuals hire a competent and ethical attorney who will take all reasonable measures to ensure that every requirement of New York’s Estates, Powers, and Trusts law is complied with.
Our office can assist you if you need help with:
- the drafting and execution of Wills or Trusts,
- Probating a Will or Administering an estate (where the decedent died without a will), whether or not a challenge is expected, or
- challenging the probate of a Will or Administration where there was some irregularity.
Please call our office at 800-344-6431 or e-mail us for assistance.
Picture courtesy of worlddub.blogspot.com
December 7th, 2009
A New York judge is presiding over the divorce proceedings of a Jewish couple. When the final papers have been signed, and the divorce is complete, the woman thanks the judge and says, “Now I have to arrange for a Get.”
The judge inquires as to what she means by a “Get.” So, the woman explains that a Get is a religious ceremony required under the Jewish religion in order to receive a divorce recognized by the Jewish faith.
The judge says, “You mean a religious ceremony like a Bris?”
She replies, “Yes, very similar, only in this case you get ride of the whole shmekel!”
Picture courtesy of Ontario Divorce Judge.net
December 4th, 2009
On Tuesday, this blog featured an article about what seniors can do to qualify for Medicaid if they forsee the need for nursing home services in the future, but do not yet need to go that route. But what if you or a loved one has already had to enter a nursing home? Now, you are faced with a situation where the senior’s life savings will soon be depleted by nursing home bills that can run as much as $10,000 to $12,000 per month. Is there any way to preserve the person’s assets, or at least a portion thereof?
Attorneys have used various strategies to allow seniors to preserve their savings for their children while still “spending down” their estate legally for the purpose of qualifying for Medicaid. One of those, which is not playing out as the most effective method, is the use of “personal service contracts” in conjunction with a lump-sum up-front payments to caregivers.
A better method is emerging for those who need “crisis planning,” i.e., trying to preserve assets after a senior has already entered a nursing home. This is the use of gifts along with promissory notes.
This method consists of retaining an attorney’s assistance to gift half of his or her assets to another while simultaneously loaning the other half of the assets (minus the $13,900 [in 2009]) to another with a promissory note for repayment. The promissory note must not last longer than the life expectancy of the lender, it must require that equal payments are made during the loan period without deferred or balloon payments, the note is not terminated by the death of the lender, and the note must be non-negotiable.
The attorney will assist the client in then applying for Medicaid, receiving a denial indicating that the person is “otherwise eligible” but for the uncompensated transfer of the gift. The applicant can then use the payments on the promissory note to pay the nursing home bills till the Medicaid “penalty amount” is paid, and then reapplying for Medicaid at which time the application should be accepted.
At that time, the person will have at least preserved half of her assets from the “spend down” requirement.
Maximum protection can be afforded to seniors’ assets by starting the Medicaid planning process several years before the expected need for nursing home services, as discussed earlier. But the promissory note/gift method, among others, is still available to seniors even if the time has already come to enter a nursing home.
For help with short term or long term Medicaid planning, e-mail or call us at 800-344-6431.
Picture courtesy of the Ombudsman Program.
December 3rd, 2009
The Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday in the case of Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. the United States. The specifics of the case were discussed in a series of articles in the New York Law Journal Monday and yesterday by Marcia Coyle.
The Milavetz & Gallop firm, based outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, along with some of their clients, challenged certain provisions of the amendments to the Bankruptcy Code of 2005, called BAPCPA (Bankruptcy Abuse and Prevention Consumer [credit card company, actually] Act) on First Amendment grounds, only one month after it became law.
The Milavetz firm most prominently challenged provisions of the Code which demands that they place a notice on all Bankruptcy related advertising that indicates that the firm is a “debt relief agency,” thus equating law firms with the fly-by-night debt counselors you hear about on the radio. The firm argued that this is insulting to lawyers and an unconstitutional regulation of true, non-misleading speech.
They also challenged the Code’s new requirement that attorneys representing clients contemplating bankruptcy may not advise those individuals, if they are below a certain income level, to take on any new debt. Milavetz asserts that this rule unconstitutionally interferes with the lawyer/client relationship. It also prevents attorneys from advising clients to consolidate debt by taking out a new loan, a strategy which may help keep some people out of bankruptcy altogether.
Milavetz even said that if the high court doesn’t come down on their side, holding the challenged provisions of the Bankruptcy Code to be unconstitutional, “we will handle no more consumer bankruptcy cases…”
Hopefully the Supreme Court will indeed find these overeager provisions of the 2005 Bankruptcy Code amendments unconstitutional.
Picture courtesy of Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P.A.