The clouds parted just in time for Antonio Yarbough to enjoy a piece of cheesecake on a Manhattan rooftop last Thursday. He was celebrating five years since he walked out of a Brooklyn courtroom a free man. But he still does not know who killed his family.

IMG_3241-225x300EVWSG4FLI66A4VDF6ZCFQUHW2M-200x300Friends, relatives, reporters, and not-a-few lawyers gathered to honor Tony and help him celebrate his exoneration, just as we celebrated on a Manhattan rooftop in June 2014. Tony’s wrongful conviction for the slaughter of his family — which was actually committed by an unknown man who raped and murdered a fourth person seven years later — was one of the most appalling episodes of the reign of Charles Hynes as Brooklyn District Attorney. Hynes was defeated by Ken Thompson in 2013. Thompson agreed Antonio should be released after just five weeks on the job.

Antonio has spent the last five years recovering from what the state did to him. He has reconnected with his extended family and old friends. He has made new friends. He has worked at a hotel. He now donates his time to the Alliance of Families for Justice, where he sits on the board (alongside actor Danny Glover) and provides support for families affected by the criminal justice system. Antonio has touched countless lives with his quiet grace and heroic resilience. As he said on Piers Morgan the day after his release, he has no time for bitterness.

Federal Child Pornography Lawyer Discusses YouTube Algorithm | Law Office of Zachary Margulis-OhnumaAn article in today’s New York Times suggests that there is an “open gate for pedophiles” on YouTube because of the way the video hosting service suggests videos to users.

If you look at one video of a partially clothed child on YouTube, the service’s algorithm will send you to more and more videos that are similar, the Times reports.

That has the effect of turning harmless videos of children into “sexualized imagery.”

A 200-month sentence imposed on a first-time child pornography offender was thrown out by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday because the judge erroneously assumed that the defendant must have committed a prior sex offense.

The reversal was the second time that the circuit court vacated the sentence imposed on Joseph Vincent Jenkins, who was convicted after trial of transporting child porn on thumb drives and laptops as he traveled to his parents’ vacation home in Canada. The first sentence, 225 months, was too long because there was no basis for Chief Judge Glenn T. Suddaby’s conclusion that Jenkins was at a high risk to re-offend. Jenkins had never been convicted before, was not accused of attempting to harm a child, and “never spoke to, much less approached or touched, a child.”

This time, Judge Suddaby erroneously imposed nearly seventeen years on a first-time, non-violent, child pornography offender by cherry-picking studies that, he said, showed that sex crimes against children are much more common than what is reported. He found that studies show “inconsistent findings concerning the prevalence rate of sex offending by non-production offenders.” Judge Suddaby went on to note features of Jenkins’s personality identified in a competency report, which, he said were correlated with sexually dangerous behavior. Based on this analysis, Judge Suddaby concluded that “it was likely that Jenkins had committed a prior–undetected–sex offense, that he therefore had a high risk of recidivism, that a lengthy sentence was justified.”

This year’s New York State budget passed earlier this month with the most sweeping criminal justice reforms in at least a generation. The changes go into effect in 2020 and will change almost everything about defending people in New York State cases, where the vast majority of arrests in New York are handled. How will they affect your case? Read on.

First, “Discovery Reform” will replace the New York “Blindfold Law.” Under the current system, defense lawyers learn only what DAs want to tell them abut the case until the moment before trial. Under the new rules, starting on January 1, 2020, discovery is going to be “open, early and automatic.” That means that prosecutors will have to hand over all information about the case “as soon as practicable” but not more than 15 days after the defendant is arraigned, at least in most cases. And discovery is much broader than it ever was, including not just trial exhibits but also all witness statements, all grand jury minutes (not just of testifying witnesses), names and contact information for all potential witnesses, exculpatory information, and pretty much anything else in a prosecutor’s file. If you are being charged with a felony, you get your own statements at least 48 hours before the grand jury presentation–that can give you a chance to testify in the grand jury without worrying about getting tripped up by a statement you made previously to a detective. Perhaps most importantly, if the DA makes a plea offer, you are entitled to full discovery before the DA can withdraw the plea offer. Prosecutors cannot condition the plea offer on a waiver of discovery rights. No longer will defense lawyers ask for discovery during plea negotiations only to be told, sarcastically, “your client knows what he did.” Click the link for Part LLL of Chapter 59 of the New York State Laws of 2019, the full text of the new New York criminal discovery rules.

Second, you have a much better chance of getting released while your case is pending under New York state’s new bail rules. There will be mandatory release for all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies–except, of course, sex offenses (and cases involving contempt of domestic violence court orders). For more serious offenses, the court can only set money bail with the least restrictive conditions and with at least three options or ways to pay: cash, unsecured bond, and partially secured bond. Electronic monitoring can be used to prevent flight in serious cases, but you won’t have to pay for it and there are many limitations. If the court sets a monetary bail, it will have to consider the defendant’s ability to pay and any undue hardship, and it put its reasoning on the record. As a practical matter, the reforms should lead to fewer thoughtless decisions over bail that needlessly separate people from their families even though they are presumed to be innocent. Click the link for Part JJJ of Chapter 59 of the New York State Laws of 2019, which shows the amendments to the bail rules and Desk Appearance Ticket provisions.

Judge Raymond Dearie of the Eastern District of New York ruled yesterday that ZMOLAW client Adamou Djibo is entitled to a new trial because the government wrongfully withheld thousands of pages of relevant information from a cooperating witness’s cell phone. The reversal follows a remand from the Second Circuit: the appeals court directed the trial court to permit Djibo time and public funds to obtain a full translation of the material, which turned out to contain messages in Swahili that undercut the government’s theory that Djibo was the mastermind behind a ring that smuggled 100 kilos of heroin from Africa.

The government’s main evidence was the testimony of cooperating witness Stanley Walden, who struck a deal to testify against Djibo shortly after being stopped flying in to JFK with more than six kilos of low-grade heroin in a secret compartment in his suitcase. Walden protested that the drugs were not his, but belonged to Djibo and that he was just a courier. Text messages on his phone in English appeared to corroborate his claim, and the feds arrested Djibo as he boarded a flight to London a few weeks later.

The government handed over the English-language texts with Djibo, but nothing else from Walden’s phone, despite repeated requests many months before trial. Not relevant, said AUSA Karen Koniuszy. Texts on Djibo’s phone were suppressed because the border agents illegally searched it when he was stopped — but that’s another story.

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Imagine you are met on the tarmac getting off a plane at JFK Terminal Two by armed customs officers. They tell you to come with them. They drive you to a secure area in Terminal Four, where foreigners are “processed” — i.e detained until they are admitted into the U.S. or sent to immigration custody. At Terminal Four, the officers do a normal customs search, then ask you to wait in a windowless room. Plainclothes investigators enter and tell you that they are going to search your cell phone and iPad. “No you are not,” you say. “I have a Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.” They respond that the “protection of the Fourth Amendment does not apply at the U.S. border.” They give you a “choice” — you can leave, but you have to leave your cell phone and iPad behind to be searched. Or you can give them your passcodes and, if they don’t find anything on your devices, you can be on your way. You give them the passcodes. They find pictures they believe are child pornography — they are not — and take you away in handcuffs.

Is this a “routine” border search, or something else? Have your Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights been violated?

Those are questions that principal attorney Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma will argue tomorrow before a panel of judges at the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department. The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation argued in an amicus brief that, under these circumstances, a warrant based on probable cause is required to search the devices. The state believes the search was proper because a federal agent had some vague notion that a house associated with a family member of the defendant was at some point in the past used to download child pornography. We’ll argue that more is needed to justify a search of electronic items at the border, just like a warrant was required to search a cell phone incident to arrest in the 2014 Supreme Court case Riley v. California. Moreover, under these circumstances the provision of the passcodes was not a voluntary act but was the product of coercion, and thus information derived from the passcodes cannot be used against the defendant under the Fifth Amendment.

Police in New York have been fighting to block the release of raw, unedited body-worn camera footage by claiming that the footage is a “personnel record” used for performance evaluations and therefore confidential under the Civil Rights Law. However, in a decision released last month, the First Department Appellate Division rejected this theory, which had been put forward by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. In PBA v. DeBlasio, et al., the Appellate Division held that privacy interests of police officers do not transform the bodycam footage into “personnel records” and therefore the footage must generally be released under the Freedom of Information Law.

Screen-Shot-2019-03-13-at-10.37.10-AM-1-275x300.pngApril 2017 marked the beginning of the NYPD’s body-worn camera program, which outfitted 1,300 police officers across 20 precincts with body cameras. The stated purpose of the program was to document the public’s interaction with police and establish a clear record of those encounters, as well as to provide evidence in  civil or criminal proceedings. That purpose was quickly tested on September 6, 2017, when police responded to a report of a Bronx man acting erratically in his apartment. The police responded for a “wellness check” that escalated into a 15-minute standoff ending with the shooting and death of Miguel Richards at the hands of NYPD Officers, all of whom were equipped with body-worn cameras. Our office, along with the Law Offices of Daniel A. McGuinness, P.C., represents Mr. Richards’s family in a lawsuit against the City and the individual police officers.

The entire encounter was caught on tape.

https://www.zmolaw.com/news/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Screen-Shot-2019-02-21-at-3.18.47-PM-231x300.pngTop New York State officials claimed that they cannot be sued for the sex abuse, cover-up, and retaliation against Yekatrina Pusepa, a female inmate at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, at the hands of a prison guard. Last week, a federal judge said they were wrong.

In October 2017, our office, partnering with the Law Offices of Daniel A. McGuinness, P.C., filed a lawsuit alleging that prison officials created an environment that failed to protect Ms. Pusepa, and other female inmates, from the sexual advances of correction staff. Ms. Pusepa, who was 25 at the time, was repeatedly approached by Corrections Officer Ruben Illa. Illa’s advances were notorious in the prison and, the complaint alleges, prison staff knew what Illa was doing and did nothing to stop it, preferring to hold Ms. Pusepa out as bait to try to catch Illa in the act. On one occasion, Illa groped Ms. Pusepa in her cell while two inmates held up a curtain to block the view. On another, he tried to have sex with her in a supply closet, but got scared off. On December 2, 2015, Illa called Ms. Pusepa out to the prison’s medical clinic for no apparent reason, then wrote her up for being out of place. After resigning from the prison, he pled guilty to filing a false report. He denies the sexual contact.

But Ms. Pusepa’s ordeal did not end with the sex abuse. When she refused to cooperate with a Department of Corrections investigation, she was thrown into solitary confinement on trumped-up charges, purposely left alone with a notoriously violent inmate, and verbally threatened and harassed by prison staff, the suit alleges. According to the lawsuit, top officials including Anthony Annucci, Acting Commissioner of DOCCS, Jason Effman, Associate Commissioner and PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) Coordinator for DOCCS, and Sabina Kaplan, the Superintendent at Bedford Hills were responsible for what happened to Ms. Pusepa because they were deliberately indifferent to the danger she faced from the guard who assaulted her.

32152929167_ec5898bebd_k-300x214Senate Bill S2440, the New York Child Victims Act, was signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday. The new law, which has been a goal of victims’ rights advocates for years, extends the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims to file civil lawsuits, reviving old claims that, until yesterday, were time-barred. It also gives prosecutors more time to bring criminal charges going forward.

Survivors have a year from yesterday to bring civil claims for childhood sexual abuse that were previously barred by a statue of limitations. People who now wish to seek civil damages against their abusers can file a lawsuit, no matter how long ago the conduct occurred, as long as the suit is filed within the next 364 days.

If you were sexually assaulted as a child in New York and might be  interested in seeking damages against the abuser, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. This second chance to hold your abuser accountable goes away soon. This blog post is not legal advice and only a qualified attorney can advise you about how the new law applies to your particular circumstances.

1024px-EAS_Hall_SIT-300x200Starting this month, I have been teaching an innovative new class about computer crime and high-tech government surveillance at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. The course covers legal developments over the last two decades that have shaped how the government investigates computer crimes, such as computer hacking and the distribution of child pornography, as well as conventional crimes like drug trafficking and fraud that have become more efficient by using new information technologies. The course syllabus can be found here.

The topics we will cover come directly from our hands-on work for clients at the Law Office of Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma over the past couple of years. They include:

  • border agents’ authority to search computer devices at the United States border without a search warrant or suspicion,

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