New York is Definitely Different


The world of the New York criminal-defense lawyer is very different from that of the Houston criminal-defense lawyer; these differences go deeper than just the much greater number of cases that Texas lawyers try to juries. Scott Greenfield, writes about the plea offers mailed to 60 of the 62 alleged Gambino defendants in the Eastern District of New York:

According to the story, the offers ranged from 4 months to 20 years.

Lawyers with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn said the plea offers were given to 60 defendants, including most of the high ranked crime family members hit in the 80-count racketeering indictment. Only reputed Gambino soldier Charles Carneglia, 61, and fugitive captain Nicholas Corozzo, 67, who face murder charges, weren’t given offers, officials said.

That’s to be expected. By taking out the little fish, the government gains leverage in getting the big fish. It’s really just a variation on an old joke: Once they’ve determined who is a whore, they are just dickering over price. The next step will be the tantalizing prospect of cooperation, and a better offer, if only the defendants will give up the big guys.

Why the speed? Because the defendants have yet to retain counsel of their choosing. The feds want to get in there and entice as many defendants as possible to stay with their CJA lawyers, engage in negotiation, hold out the 5K1.1 carrot, before they lawyer up for real. It’s not that the CJA lawyers are competent, perhaps even spectacular lawyers, but that they are not married to the ways of the defendants.

Those ways, as Scott describes them, are the ways of “men of honor”:

Indulge my rhetorical statements here, since I speak of no one in particular and know nothing about any of the specific individuals involved in this indictment. But there is some history in these alleged organized crime cases that cannot be ignored.

In the old days, the men involved in organized crime believed in certain things, one of which was that they would never turn on their friends. They would take the heat. Do the time. Come out eventually and know that their families were provided for. They would hold up their end of the deal. Their associates, their bosses, would hold up theirs. Quite symbiotic, and one on which you could count.

That changed over time, as do so many of the old ways. Valachi. Gravano, D’Arco, Sessa, Scarpa. Embarrassments all, but a wave of the future. While this made for some fine movie insights, it was the end of honor. To the romantic, the end of honor made them ordinary criminals, unworthy of further interest.

In U.S. District Courts in Texas the Government very rarely makes plea offers carrying specific sentences. “Offers rang[ing] from 4 months to 20 years”? Fuhgeddaboudit. In every district in Texas, (c)(1)(C) pleas — plea agreements that are binding on the court — are exceedingly rare.

In Texas, as in New York, we sometimes have defendants who would never turn on their associates. Here, though, it’s a matter of self-preservation or — more often — of the effective equivalent of “honor”: family loyalty.

In New York, if you are an accused trying to get a reduction in your sentence by providing assistance to the government, your refusal to tell the Federal Government about all of cousin Louie’s wrongdoing is a deal-breaker. Don’t want to rat on him? No 5K1 for you.

In Texas, though, federal prosecutors don’t generally have a problem with defendants keeping their mouths shut about their family members. Not ratting on cousin Louie won’t buy you a 5K1 in Texas, but it won’t stop you from getting a 5K1 if you can otherwise provide substantial assistance to the government.

In other words, federal prosecutors in Texas generally respect a defendant’s decision not to bear witness against his brother; there are often “men of honor” on both sides of a criminal case.

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