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New York Criminal Law: An Overview

Are you facing criminal charges in the state of New York? If so, it may be a good idea to brush up on your knowledge of the local criminal justice system.

Learning about New York criminal law could be critical in helping you prepare for whatever may come your way.

Crime Classifications in the State of New York

New York has three crime classifications. In order of most severe to least, they are felonies, misdemeanors, and violations.

Felonies: New York State subdivides felony crimes by class (A-E), and further categorizes each criminal charge as violent or non-violent. Felony convictions stay on your criminal record. Offenses classified as A1 and A2 are the most serious of crimes and are punishable by a minimum of 20 years to life in prison. Felony crime examples, Class A1, include:

  • First and second-degree murder
  • Terrorism
  • First-degree arson

At the other end of the spectrum, examples of non-violent felonies (the least severe of this class) include:

  • First-degree rent gouging
  • Second-degree identity theft
  • Fourth-degree money-laundering

This last example, money-laundering, is a crime that also falls under the category of “white-collar crimes” typically associated with business professionals. White-collar crimes may involve federal charges. If so, these cases go to federal courts. Sometimes, these cases are high-profile.

Misdemeanors: Crimes in this category are punishable by at least 15 days in jail but not more than one year.

Examples of Class A misdemeanors include: 

  • Fifth-degree welfare fraud
  • Unlawful use of a debit card, credit card, or public benefit card
  • Fourth-degree drug crimes such as the criminal sale of marijuana

Examples of Class B misdemeanors include: 

  • Prostitution
  • Public lewdness
  • Third-degree rent gouging

Violations: This category refers to criminal offenses but does not include traffic violations. The maximum allowable penalty is not more than 15 days in jail. In New York, violations include:

  • Hazing
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Loitering

NY State Drunk Driving Laws

New York has strict driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws. Drivers also will face penalties, even if not convicted on a DUI charge, for refusing roadside testing.

Penalties vary depending on the level and type of DUI charge as well. For example, there is a zero-tolerance policy for underage drivers. Penalties for this offense include a six-month license suspension and a fine of $125.

Drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .06% to .08% are breaking the law in New York. The charge would be driving while ability impaired (DWAI) and penalties may include a fine of up to $500, 15 days in jail, and losing your license for 90 days for a first offense.

A standard level DUI is driving with a BAC level of .08% or higher. No other evidence is necessary. First offense (misdemeanor) penalties include a fine ranging from $500 to $1,000, no more than one year in jail, and losing your license for six months.

An aggravated DUI involves a BAC of .18% or higher. A first offense may result in losing your license for at least a year. Penalties increase with each offense and could lead to permanent loss of your driver’s license.

NY State Marijuana Law

Possession of up to one ounce is a civil violation punishable by a fine of no more than $50. No jail time is associated. Possession of two to eight ounces could lead to up to one year of jail time and a fine of $1,000. Possessing weed for sale also is illegal, as is growing marijuana for profit. Penalties begin at up to three months in jail and or a fine of up to $500.

State law allows for limited use of medical marijuana. Only tinctures, edibles, and other non-smokable marijuana preparations are options for people with conditions such as glaucoma and cancer.

Choosing a Criminal Attorney

Deciding on a criminal defense lawyer is an important step in the process. Since time is likely of the essence, you’ll probably want to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer sooner rather than later. So how do you zero in on the best criminal defense lawyer for you? Whether you are in a borough of New York City – Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island or Brooklyn – or upstate in a city like White Plains or a rural community, there are a lot of considerations when evaluating criminal lawyers and their law offices.

  • How many years of experience does the criminal defense attorney have? You may feel more secure in the possibility of a positive outcome in your criminal case with the most experienced lawyer you can afford.
  • Does the list of practice areas match your needs? A lawyer who only handles white-collar crime, for example, may not be a good match for a misdemeanor theft charge.
  • Are they former prosecutors? If they are former prosecutors, hiring them may be more beneficial depending on the circumstances in your case.
  • Do they have a proven track record as a trial attorney? The more severe the charges you may be facing, the more important this may be in the event your case goes to trial.
  • You may also want to investigate whether the law firm offers a free consultation to discuss the particulars of your criminal case and any initial legal advice.

Moving Forward

You help yourself and the outcome of your criminal case by learning about your rights and NY State’s criminal justice system. By taking the time to learn the system, you better prepare yourself as your case progresses.

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