Criminal Contempt in the First Degree: New York Penal Law 215.51

First Degree Criminal Contempt, New York Penal Law 215.51, is without a doubt one of the “scarier” and broader versions of the Criminal Contempt charges. Not that Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree, New York Penal Law 215.50(3), is anything to take lightly, but NY PL 215.51 is an “E” felony. Without any criminal history and having no prior brushes with the law, if you are arrested for Criminal Contempt in the First Degree you will face as much as one and one third to four years in a New York State penitentiary. If that potential punishment does put the severity of these arrests and charges into perspective, then maybe actual incarceration will.

According to the New York Criminal Code 215.51(b), you are guilty of First Degree Criminal Contempt if in violation of a duly served order of protection (or an order that may not have been duly served but you have knowledge of it because you were present in court when it was issued) you

  1. intentionally place or attempt to place a protected party in reasonable fear of physical injury, serious physical injury or death by displaying a deadly weapon, dangerous instrument or some type of gun or firearm or by means of a threat or threats; or

  2. intentionally place or attempt to place a protected party in reasonable fear of physical injury, serious physical injury or death by repeatedly following the protected party or engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts over a period of time; or

  3. intentionally place or attempt to place a protected party in reasonable fear of physical injury, serious physical injury or death when you communicate or causes a communication to be initiated with that person by telephone, written communication or electronic communication (such as a text, Facebook message, email, etc.); or

  4. with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm the protected party, you repeatedly make telephone calls to that person, regardless of whether or not you have a conversation, with no purpose of legitimate conversation; or

  5. with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm the protected party, you strike, shove, kick or subject that other persons to physical contact or merely attempt to or threaten to do the same; or

  6. by physical menace, you intentionally place or attempt to place the protected party in reasonable fear of death, imminent serious physical injury or physical injury.

The list above is not a comprehensive list of conduct that constitutes a violation of NY PL 215.51, but identifies some of the more common arrests. Because other actions may result in an arrest (in the domestic context these arrests are mandatory) with potential sentences of up to four years in prison, understanding all of the possible elements and charges is essential. Even if the crime of First Degree Criminal Contempt was limited to the language above, these sections contain numerous terms and words defined by statute and legal decisions that are beyond the every day understanding of non-lawyers and non criminal attorneys. For example, what constitutes “physical injury,” “reasonable fear,” “imminent” and “a period of time?” Is a slap on the cheek physical injury and is “a period of time” one day? Going forward without experienced criminal counsel is not only naive, but ignorant and dangerous. Do not set yourself up for failure.

Just as in arrests for Second Degree Contempt, and arguably more concerning here, is the ease in which prosecutors can build these cases even without the approval, assistance or support of a complainant. Because the nature of these crimes often involve electronic communications, can prosecutors get access to text or email records? Can they do so without a cooperative complainant? Once they get these records can they then subpoena your records and identity you as the caller, texter or emailer? Did you exercise your right to remain silent or will your apology or statement to the police be used against you? The answers to these questions may be of central importance to how your defense will be both constructed and executed.

If you are arrested or investigated for misdemeanor or felony Criminal Contempt, get immediate assistance. Exercise your right to remain silent and retain experienced counsel. Be prepared for Assistant District Attorneys to request bail and judges who are ready to impose the same. Make sure you are armed with a defense or a legitimate basis for limited or no bail when you see the judge at your arraignment. Don’t let a felony arrest land you in custody and destroy the career and future you diligently built over the years. Contact the New York criminal lawyers and former Domestic Violence Assistant District Attorneys at Crotty Saland PC before matters go from bad to worse.

Call the New York City Criminal Contempt attorneys and former Domestic Violence Assistant District Attorneys at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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