Violent Crime

Crimes that are classified as "violent" are among the most serious in New York and they carry the stiffest punishments. Contacting an experienced New York City violent crime attorney is absolutely critical if you want to stay out of jail in the fact of these accusations. The definition of “violent crime” is more complicated than a layperson’s understanding. The best way to conceptualize the definition of violent crime is to think about it as being its own category that is different than other crimes.

There are two ways to categorize which crimes are considered “violent.” The first way is to follow the FBI’s definition. The FBI considers four types of crimes to be “violent.” These crimes are: (1) Murder and Manslaughter, (2) Forcible Rape, (3) Robbery, and (4) Aggravated Assault. The FBI keeps track of whenever one of these four crimes is committed anywhere in the United States. They then compare the aggregate number of these four types of crimes in a given year to other years. So when news media says things like “violent crime is down in America,” they are referring to the fact that according to the FBI, these four crimes are being committed at a lower frequency than in years past. Although the FBI keeps track of all the violent crimes that occur in the country, they are not tasked with assisting in most of the subsequent investigations. That job is left to the local and state governments.

In New York, the laws that state what is illegal are enumerated in the New York State Penal Code. The Penal Code explicitly designates which crimes are considered “violent.” While crimes like Murder, Forcible Rape, Robbery, and Aggravated Assault are also considered to be violent crimes, the list in New York also includes many more types of crime. In addition to the crimes the FBI considers violent, New York also considers felony gun possession, burglary, kidnapping, and most sexual assaults to be violent crimes. The difference between what is classified as violent crime is significant from what is considered non-violent because the potential prison sentences for the violent crimes are significantly greater. Moreover, most prison time in New York for violent crime is considered to be “determinate.” That means the judge sets the sentence in fixed years and the person who is convicted has to serve that time. For non-violent crimes, the sentence is “indeterminate.” This means the judge can only set a range. This range is proscribed by statute. The parole board then determines how much of that range the person must actually serve. For example, if a person is convicted of Robbery in the First Degree, a violent crime, and the person has never been convicted of a crime in the past, the person must serve a determinate prison sentence of at least five years in prison. The most the person can get is 25 years. What the actual sentence would be depends on the judge and the facts of the case. But it will be a fixed number. If the person stands convicted of Robbery in the First Degree and has been previously convicted of any other violent crime within the past ten years, then the person must be sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. This is how it works for all violent crime except for murder and for certain very serious sexual assault convictions. In these very serious instances, the prison sentence is indeterminate because the person can spend the rest of their life in prison. So if a person is convicted of Murder, his sentence can be 25 to life. This means that the person has to serve 25 years. After he has served the 25 years, the parole board determines how much more time the person must serve, up to the end of his life.

Violent crime in New York is the lowest it has ever been. This is based on the FBI tracking which is listed above. Because crime is so low, the New York City Police Department is under enormous pressure to keep it that way. When the police department determines that a violent crime has been committed, they will do everything they can to “close out the case.” This means make an arrest. Once they determine that enough evidence exists to make an arrest, they then make the arrest and hand the case over to the District Attorney’s Office. The problem though is that the standard of proof necessary to legally make an arrest is significantly lower than the standard necessary to find someone guilty of the crime. There are many people who are arrested, but whom the case "falls apart" after it is determined that the evidence against the person isn't that strong. For the police to make an arrest, they merely have to have probable cause to believe that the person committed the crime. “Probable Cause” simply means more likely and not. So if the police think that it is more likely than not that a person committed a crime, they will arrest the person.

The standard of proof to convict someone of a crime, however, is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the highest standard of proof that exists in the United States. This standard of proof essentially means that even if a jury thinks the person probably committed the crime, they must still find the person not guilty if they have an honest doubt about the person’s guilt.

Here is a real world situation as to how these two standards of proof can affect an average person. Suppose it is late at night and a white male who is about 6 feet tall with a red shirt and wearing a backwards Yankee hat steals a woman’s purse at gunpoint. The woman calls the police and the police put over the description of the perpetrator over the radio. The description is based on what the woman told them. As this is happening, I happen to be getting out of work and I am wearing a backwards Yankee hat, I have a red shirt, and I am white. The police then forcibly detain me to investigate whether I am the robber. They then bring the woman over to the location where I was arrested and she tells the police that she is not sure because it was so dark out, but that my appearance is consistent with that of the robber and she thinks it’s probably me. The police don’t find a gun on me, nor do they find any of the woman’s property. However, the police have the legal right to arrest me and charge me with the robbery because the statement made by the woman gives the police probable cause to believe I committed the crime. While the police may have probable cause to think I committed the crime, there is a lot of reasonable doubt here. For example, I don’t have any of the victim’s property on me. I also don’t have a gun. Further, suppose I even have an alibi. This is a situation where I may ultimately be vindicated even though I was arrested and charged with this nasty crime. In this situation, the NYPD closed the case out. So the case is considered solved by them and the statistics indicate they did their job.

In my experiences as a prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, I often found myself in situations where the NYPD aggressively pushed to make an arrest so they can close out the case, only to then not care about the case or the people involved once the arrest was made. At that point, the case became the DA’s Office’s problem. The danger in these situations is that the NYPD, in their aggressive haste to make an arrest, often make mistakes and the wrong people are arrested for crimes they did not commit. When this happens, only a lawyer can help them.

If you, or a loved, find yourself in a situation where you are the target of a police investigation into a violent crime, you need an attorney who can help you because the police are actively trying to place you under arrest. How you proceed is critical. The same is true if you've already been arrested and now have to fight to be vindicated. As a former Manhattan prosecutor, John Buza has unique knowledge not only in the post-arrest litigation phase of a case, but also in the pre-arrest and pre-indictment investigation phase. Contact him for a free consultation today.

Below is a list of the most common violent crimes charged by prosecutors in New York as well as what their potential sanctions are and what the government needs to prove to sustain a conviction.