In New York, each county has an office of the District Attorney, wherein the state will prosecute primarily criminal actions. However, civil actions can also be prosecuted, particularly in conjunction with child protection services.

The District Attorney, or D.A. prosecutes only violations of state law – violations of Federal law are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office. It is a public office, beholden to the public and its will. It is not a private law firm. It is run with taxpayer money, and the attorneys who work at the D.A.’s office work for the state, rather than any private individual.

District attorneys are elected in general elections, and they will typically appoint or hire all of the assistant attorneys in the office. That means that every few years, many of the employees within the D.A.’s office can be replaced, which ensures that corruption or bad practices do not become embedded within the offices.

Ensuring the Independence of the D.A.’s Office

Most D.A.’s offices in New York do not have term limits – that means they can potentially be continuously re-elected forever. This was to ensure the independence of the D.A.’s office so that legislatures cannot limit the ability of prosecutors to prosecute crimes. Elections are one of the most effective forms of accountability for prosecutors.

This is because they are typically rarely sanctioned or disbarred by the State legal community for prosecutorial misconduct. If they are found to have committed misconduct, the taxpayers are on the hook for the payment – individual prosecutors will not have to pay out a settlement.

The office of the D.A. can investigate crimes with or without local law enforcement. Usually, police officers are the ones to find the criminals and make an arrest. Once an arrest is made, the D.A. will then make the decision to prosecute a case.

The D.A. Need Not Wait for an Arrest to Occur Before Investigating A Crime

The D.A.’s office may initiate their own investigation to gather preliminary evidence in order to execute an arrest. Once the D.A. does decide to try a case, they will investigate through the usual channels of criminal or civil procedure, including gathering more evidence, interviewing witnesses and suspects, and gathering documents through discovery and subpoenas. Most D.A. offices have investigators to gather the evidence required to bring a strong enough case to trial.

However, the vast majority of cases do not proceed to trial. The D.A. will determine whether or not to offer or accept certain plea bargains. This is because trials are time-consuming and costly endeavors, and by arranging for plea deals, the office will lower costs, and process their cases much more quickly, reflecting the best interest of justice.

The D.A.’s Office is the Branch in Charge of Prosecuting Crimes

The D.A.’s office should not be confused with the (also government-funded) office of the Public Defender. The Public Defender defends low-income suspects against the prosecutorial actions of the D.A. is the gate-keeper of justice. While the office is primarily concerned with prosecuting criminal actions, it must act vigilantly to ensure that it does not prosecute someone who is wrongfully accused. If the D.A.’s office has reason to believe that their suspect did not commit the crime, they have an ethical duty to dismiss the case and continue their investigation to find the right perpetrator.

One of Our Many Experiences With The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office…

In today’s worldwhere technology is becoming extremely controlling in our daily lives and the use of computers and cell phones for a lot of our daily transactions and day-to-day activities become more prevalent, it is important for individuals to be aware of the implications of cases like United States v. Metter on defendants’ rights as they pertain to the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution.  

Generally, there are 4th Amendment protections in place to address illegal search and seizure.  However, there are conditions to when a search or a seizure will be found to be unconstitutional, and, in many instances, the cases are heavily fact-driven. 

United States v. Metter, Docket No. 12-2423-cr (2d Cir. 2012). 

In United States v. Mettera defendant was charged with a number of separate counts involving fraud and money laundering crimes. 

Seizure of Compter and Hard DrivesIn relation to the criminal investigation by the United States Attorney’s Officehundreds of computers and hard drives were seized.  The defendants alleged criminal conduct occurred within the guise of regular business.  This means that not all of the materials that were seized that were contained on the computerwe’re actually applicable or targeted by the search warrant.  

Privileged v. Non-Privileged MaterialAfter having seized the computers and hard drives15 months’ time had passed.  During that time, the United States Attorneys Office had taken no steps to vet the material or to remove privileged material from non-privileged material or even to assess whether the seized items contained targeted material. 

Criminal Defense Attorney’s File a Motion to SuppressDefense counsel for Metter ultimately made an application to the court for the release of the seized materials and to order the suppression of any information contained therein because the government had failed to act in a timely fashion to ensure that the item seized was applicable and that privileged information had been removed.  

Court RulingThe court hearing the matter agreed with defense counsel and ordered most of the items returned and large groups of the materials suppressed.   

How has the Metter Decision Impacted the Firm’s Practice of Criminal Defense? 

Around the time of the Metta decisionour firm was engaged in one particular case with clients who were based out of California but was being charged by the New York County District Attorney’s Office with a number of crimes including illegal gambling and money laundering.  Specifically, we represented the software developer and the corporation in that case. 

Why Metter was applicable to our particular case was because a number of law enforcement officers from New York had flown to California and, with the help of the Attorney General’s Office of that stateraided our clients home and seized a large number of computers and hard drives. 

Did Your Firm Also Make a Motion to Suppress? 

At the time of us making our motion to suppress, the computers and hard drives had not only been stored with all items not having been assessed but, in this particular instance involving a multidefendant caseprivileged emails between defense counsel had been released to the co-defendant. 

Therefore, each attorney had the privilege at that point to glean a snapshot of conversations between defense counsel and an individual client regarding that individual client’s role in the matter, the client’s willingness to plead or not plead guiltyand just overall defense strategy. 

What Was the New York District Attorneys Position? 

The New York County District Attorney’s Office’s position when our objection was first raised to them was to just disregard the emails of other clients with their attorneys. 

When the issue was put before a New York State Supreme Court judge, the judge agreed with the prosecutor’s position that a wholesale release of privileged materials causeno harm to the defendant individually and that we could just easily ignore what we had read and not let it affect our strategy for our individual client. 

What Did the Defense Attorneys Do? 

Our firm, with counsel from the four other defendants joining in, raised several suppression motions and sought dismissal of the criminal charges for several reasons – among them, the decision in United States v. Metter. 

That motion was made in writing because we felt that the judge was taking it extremely too lightly in light of the clear evidence that the government had conducted no vetting of the materials prior to the mass releasecoupled with the fact that a number of computers and hard drives that had been seized by the government had never even been accessed by the government almost 18 months after they had been seized. 

How did the Judge Rule on the Metter Motion? 

Like many judges who have come across Metter and its interpretation of the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitutionthe judge was taken aback by the federal interpretation that meant the government would lose wholesale portions of their case due to their own neglect. 

The judge hearing our Metter motion attempted to impose obligations on defense counsel that would place the onus on defense counsel 4 doing the job that should have been done by the prosecution. 

How has the Case Law Developed Since Metter? 

In assessing the case law that has followed the decision of United States v. Metterwhile no court had found that the decision or interpretation was wrong, courts have repeatedly attempted to find ways to sidestep the government’s obligations and make factual distinctions between the circumstances that made Metter successful to a defendant using it in order to have seized items suppressed. 

In short, many defendants and practitioners will realize that, as time has progressed, state courts have found a number of ways to clarify the 4th Amendment Constitutional rights and protections for defendants and suppression of seized evidence have become very rare.  

How is Metter Being Used by Defense Attorneys? 

Federal ProsecutionsIn federal prosecutions, it has been more common to see practitioners use Metter – sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully – for their clients when assessing the government’s rights and obligations under the 4th Amendment.  When interpreting a federal constitutional provision, federal courts are usually given great deference in interpreting federal amendments. 

State ProsecutionsHowever, in a lot of state prosecutionsit has not been as common to see defense attorneys use the decision in Metter in an effort to have the client’s 4th Amendment rights fully vetted, and protected. 

What Can Criminal Defense Attorneys Do Now? 

In light of the 4th amendment protections being diminished, it is important that criminal defense attorneys be aware of all possible attacks and angles to move to have materials suppressed on behalf of their clients. 

Using case law such as Metter could mean the difference between a defendant who is convicted of a crime or acquitted and it can also change the dynamics of plea discussions.  particularly in state-level cases because the Appellate Division in the State of New York nor the New York State Court of Appeals have yet to consider the 4th Amendment application or the New York State Application of Metter on criminal cases at a state level. 

Employing these types of tactics on behalf of clients in a time where the 4th Amendment has been eroded is essential to representing criminal defendants.  Now more than ever, with the existence of technology that had not been envisioned at the time of the enactment of the 4th Amendment, it becomes much more an obligation of counsel to pursue these avenues on behalf of a client. 

Where Do You See the Case Law Going from Here? 

In the years to come, other issues related to technology that will most certainly play a role in a criminal defendants trial seems to be evidence obtained through use of drones and the camerasmicrophones and additional equipment attached to these devicesas well as litigation regarding the uses of social media which courts have been very open to allowing into criminal trial evidence thus far.  

In light of the new age that we find ourselves in, defense attorneys are no longer just restricted to their knowledge of the law when defending a client.  Criminal defense attorneys must also have a strong basis in the knowledge of the technology of the day in order to properly assess whether an item retrieved from or through technological means may be admitted into a criminal trial and if so, in what context.