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New York Coercion Crimes: Penal Law 135.60, 135.61 and 135.65

Coercion is a statute in the New York criminal code that has a lingering and sinister aura. With public scorn heaped upon an accused, these allegations often follow a defendant throughout their prosecution from the inception of an investigation and arrest through the potential indictment and trial. Criminal defense attorneys experienced in representing clients accused of Coercion, as well as lawyers advocating for victims of this offense, can attest to how New York Penal Law sections 135.60, 135.61 and 135.65 are perceived and enforced by District Attorneys in NYC and throughout the Hudson Valley. Whether an allegation of First Degree, Second Degree or Third Degree, these crimes involve threats of shame, humiliation, violence, property damage or other misconduct to induce a person to behave in a certain manner. If charged, you, an accused and possible defendant, should have no misgiving as to the magnitude of your predicament. The NYPD, State Police, District Attorney, and any other branch of law enforcement will aggressively and vigorously enforce the law to your detriment. Simply, you need to be prepared and ready to protect your rights.

Understanding the Basics: Definition, Elements and Punishment

The three distinct degrees of this offense share many common elements. Generally, if you induce another person to engage in or refrain from behaving in a manner he or she otherwise has a legal right to without your influence, and you threaten him or her to abide by your demand, then the initial elements are satisfied. The other requirements and applicable statutes are as follows:

Third Degree: NY Penal Law 135.60

Somewhat mimicking Extortion and Blackmail, if in order to compel your target to engage in certain conduct or refrain from the same, you threaten to expose a secret, whether or not true, subject the person to ridicule and embarrassment, accuse them of a crime, cause a physical injury, or wrongfully engage in some other specified conduct, then you have likely committed the class “A” misdemeanor of Third Degree Coercion, PL135.60. With a possible sentence as great as one year in jail, aka, “city time” or “county time,” courts have the authority to sentence you to a probation and jail “split,” straight probation, and other conditional discharges including community service and mental health treatment.

Second Degree: NY Penal Law 135.61

If, after November 1, 2018, you violate the misdemeanor above and instead of merely frightening your target into any type of behavior you compel him or her to engage in sexual intercourse or either oral or anal sexual conduct, then the offense becomes the class “E” felony of Second Degree Coercion, PL 135.61, with a possible term of incarceration of up to four years. Similarly, however, a judge would also be permitted to sentence you to probation and alternatives allowable for the lesser violation.

First Degree: NY Penal Law 135.65

What ultimately increases the felony and sentence further to First Degree Coercion, PL 135.65, is where you commit misdemeanor and your threat is to cause a physical injury or damage property of another person. Although this is duplicative language from the Third Degree offense, the Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court, ruled that even though the law appears the same, the presumptive charge when violence is involved is this class “D” felony. See People v Eboli, 34 NY2d 281 (1974) and People v Discala, 45 NY2d 38 (1978).

A second subsection of this crime makes it a violation if your are attempting to force your target to commit a felony, inflict a physical injury upon another person, or violate his or her duties as a public servant.

A conviction under this statute is punishable by the same sentences as the other crimes but the potential duration of incarceration increases to two and one third to seven years.

Potential Defenses: Statutory, Evidentiary and Mitigation

Applicable only in a limited circumstance where the threat is to report your target for a crime, there is an affirmative defense to Coercion that you can assert if you genuinely believed the wrongdoing to be true and your goal was to hold your alleged target accountable for his or her conduct. Other than this defense, the attorney representing you in your arrest, indictment or trial will likely have to “dig deeper” into the law or evidence. Because words matter and how you are alleged to have conveyed any threat, one of many questions to ask and determine whether the People can corroborate is how the prosecution can prove you actually made the alleged demands. Did a complainant record you? Are their text or email messages? Is it possible the claimed victim is embellishing or simply misunderstanding? Are there any third parties who can confirm the accusations? With many options available, it is imperative to be as proactive as you can to ascertain the strongest defense even if its merely mitigating your conduct.

Hypothetical and Example

Too many possible scenarios to count, an example of Coercion is where a former lover wants you to break up with your current partner. If you fail to do so, then he or she will humiliate you by sending old pictures and text messages that will cause you great embarrassment and even jeopardize your job. Because your ex-lover is not looking for property or money in return, and instead inducing you to behave in a manner you could otherwise decide to or not on your own, the crime is not Extortion or Blackmail. What might elevate this from the misdemeanor to the class “E” or “D” felony respectively would be if instead of breaking up with your current partner, your abuser demanded that you engage in sexual intercourse or threatened to physically accost you.

Direct and Collateral Issues

Briefly, because these crimes routinely involve those who have a relationship and sometimes as former intimate partners, courts will routinely issue Orders of Protection or Restraining Orders in favor of the targeted party. If the offense is considered Domestic Violence, then the judge will likely send it to a court specializing in these cases to ensure more oversight. As part of the prosecution, it is also possible that additional charges – Aggravated Harassment, Stalking, Revenge Porn and others – could be part of the complaint or indictment. Some of these crimes can be equal to or even worse than the underling conduct.

Outside of the courtroom, its also imperative to discuss with your legal counsel how, if at all, your arrest and potentially a conviction can result in the loss of your visa or other adverse immigration consequences, employment problems, and professional licensure revocation.

Your Case, Your Defense, Your Future

No matter who you are, irrespective of the factual basis of the Coercion, and regardless of whether the matter stems from Putnam County, Brooklyn, Queens, Rockland County or elsewhere in New York City or the Hudson Valley, the right legal counsel can make the difference between either a criminal record as a defendant or your continued victimization as a complainant.

While the choice is yours to make, be rational and remain calm to best secure the help you need. When you are prepared to put your proverbial “best foot forward,” irrespective of what side of the law you find yourself, contact Saland Law so advocacy, knowledge and experience can be your strongest means of protection.

Call our criminal lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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