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Paul, Weiss Garners Powerful Dissent From New York’s Highest Court Regarding Police Detention Ruling

Paul, Weiss garnered a lengthy and powerful dissent from New York Court of Appeals Judge Rowan Wilson, joined by Judge Jenny Rivera, in connection with the firm’s appeal relating to the legality of a search and seizure of our pro bono client and his subsequent conviction for first-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. A police officer had observed our client drink from an unidentifiable container wrapped in a brown paper bag in the middle of Times Square. The officer chased after him into a closed building, grabbing him to issue a summons for an open-container violation. The officer subsequently searched and found our client in possession of $300 in counterfeit currency, which led to him getting sentenced to three to six years for first-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. On appeal, the Paul, Weiss team argued that our client’s detention lacked legal justification based on the officer’s meager observations. The Paul, Weiss team further argued that mere knowing possession of counterfeit currency was legally insufficient to meet the intent requirement for the forged instrument conviction.

Although the court ultimately affirmed the conviction, Judge Wilson agreed with Paul, Weiss that the police detention was unlawful and that the evidence was legally insufficient. He further expressed skepticism in the societal benefit of “the forcible detention of people drinking from containers wrapped in paper bags and their imprisonment for years if they possess $300 of counterfeit money.” He criticized what he perceived as an overreaction by the state to the original offense, which was nothing more than a violation, as opposed to a misdemeanor or a felony, describing the majority’s decision as “returning us to the world of broken windows.” Judge Wilson condemned the role that the defendant’s low socioeconomic status played in the defendant’s conviction, asserting that the defendant would not have found himself before a court “had he been affluent, drinking rosé with a chilled lobster picnic splayed out on Central Park’s Great Lawn on a sunny summer afternoon.”

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation counsel Jenny C. Wu, who argued before the court, and associates Nina Kovalenko, Golda Lai, Maia Usui and Rebecca Lockert. Litigation partner Nicholas Groombridge supervised the case. Legal Aid Society served as co-counsel.

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