Project Reset in New York City Could be a Legal Trap - You Need Legal Advice

By: Don Murray, Esq.

It sure sounds great, doesn’t it? If you have been offered Project Reset by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD, and you have read THEIR explanation of it, it is a perfect dream come true. Sit through some two hour workshop and you never have to go to Court even. They decline to prosecute your case. No need to go to court. No need for legal advice. No fuss. No muss. Everything is perfect.

Or maybe not.

Before you happily sign up for Project Reset, you need to take a step back and consider exactly what your situation is. Try to stop thinking about how you might not actually have to go to court at least for the time it takes to read on.

  1. You have been arrested. (They took your fingerprints, took your picture, and if you look on the DAT form you got, you will notice a thing called “OLBS ARREST ID NUMBER”. So no matter that the nice police officer who arrested you told you that you weren’t arrested, you were “just given a DAT”, you were obviously arrested.

  2. You have been charged with a crime. Project Reset is made available to people who have been charged with certain misdemeanor level crimes, like petit larceny, criminal possession of a controlled substance in the Seventh Degree, and others. People may speak of these offenses dismissively as “low level” or “minor” or “trivial” but rest assured, they are all misdemeanor offenses. The truthful answer to the question, “Have you ever been arrested for a crime?” is now and forevermore going to be, “Yes.”

  3. You have an appointment to appear in New York City Criminal Court for your first appearance (arraignment), and if you fail to appear as directed (if you are not a good candidate for Project Reset), a warrant will issue for your physical arrest, and the police will find you and drag you into Court in chains.

  4. You have received a communication from the Government offering to settle your criminal case. The Osborne Association explicitly says in their letter that they are operating under the direction of the NYPD and the District Attorney’s Office. Therefore, The Osborne Association is an Agent of the Government…the same Government that arrested you and is in charge of prosecuting you.

Take a moment to go through items 1 through 4 again. Now that you have reviewed items 1 through 4, ask yourself the following question:

Assuming items 1 - 4 are true (which they are), is there any sane universe when 1 - 4 are true and where I do not need any legal advice at all?

Of course not.

Being Arrested is Serious

Being arrested for a crime is a serious event that in itself these days carries irreversible baggage that you will carry forward forever regardless of the outcome of the case and regardless of whether they tell you the arrest is “sealed”.

Vastly important fundamental Constitutional protections spring into being around you at the moment of arrest; ideas, laws, and rules that people have died in foreign lands to preserve for you. These principles are founded in a general distrust of the Government, or at least a strong need to keep the Government honest when it comes to how it handles people accused of crimes in the Criminal Justice System.

But never mind. You got a letter from the Government offering to settle your case in what sounds like a great way. Don’t bother getting any legal advice. What could possibly go wrong when dealing with the Government in the New York City Criminal Justice System? You can rely on the Government to tell you everything, right? Get your legal advice about your criminal case from the Government, the same Government that arrested you, deprived you of your freedom for a little while, and has ordered you to be in Criminal Court later on on pain of issuing a warrant for your arrest and dragging you there in chains.

Ummm, wait a minute…Maybe that seems a little silly.

The Government Doesn’t Seem to Think a Lawyer is Necessary for Someone Charged with a Crime

Removing annoying criminal defense lawyers from the equation in the Criminal Justice System is a dream of the Government that is beginning to come true through Project Reset. The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution has been a thorn in the Government’s side for a couple hundred years, but Project Reset is starting on the path toward making the lawyerless Criminal Justice System a reality.

The latest version of the letter from The Osborne Association that I have seen does not mention the word lawyer or attorney. Nothing in the materials available from them on the web suggests that legal advice is necessary. The best they do is provide a button at the bottom of one page for people to click on that says, “If you need legal advice” as if legal advice might not be necessary when someone is arrested and charged with a crime.

 This is a screen capture of the page that comes up when you click the “If you need legal advice” button.  Again, it is suggested that legal advice is optional.  Annotations in red are mine.  Screen capture is from September 30, 2018.

This is a screen capture of the page that comes up when you click the “If you need legal advice” button. Again, it is suggested that legal advice is optional. Annotations in red are mine. Screen capture is from September 30, 2018.

Wrong. You need legal advice.

Obviously, a person who is arrested and charged with a crime should always seek legal advice in order to understand his or her situation, the meaning of it, available options, and potential consequences of those options. Even if the ultimate decision is to participate in Project Reset, this does not make a thorough consultation with a lawyer a wasted enterprise.

If you get arrested and charged with a crime, you 100% need legal advice. Point blank ask any attorney or any judge on the record. No sane attorney or judge will ever, ever say in a million years, that if you are arrested, you don’t need any legal advice, and that you should attempt to negotiate your case yourself with the Government. People have died in foreign lands so that you can have a lawyer when you are arrested.

What AREN’T they telling you?

When the Government communicates with you via the letter from The Osborne Association (regardless of whether or not you are represented by counsel), they don’t tell you everything about this situation, and they leave you to draw certain conclusions that are not true.

For example, the explanation of what happens once your case is declined to be prosecuted can lead you to believe that because “the arrest is sealed” that you will be free to lie to the world and tell everyone and anyone that you have “never been arrested”. That is false. You are not free to lie to everyone and anyone.

Assume you have participated in Project Reset and your arrest is then “sealed”. You then attend law school. You take and pass the bar examination. Then you have to do the extensive background check to become a lawyer. You will be asked to list all the times you have been arrested. On the strength of the legal advice you got from Project Reset, that your arrest is “sealed,” you tell them that you were never arrested.

Good luck becoming a lawyer. You just lied to the Bar Examiners and they will be able to know about it. Have a nice career in whatever non-legal career you choose to pursue.

The same idea applies to a non-United States citizen. Tell Immigration that you were never arrested. Good luck becoming a citizen, and good luck in the current climate not being arrested for lying on a Federal form.

And just to bring home the notion that information about the arrest is still out there available to some, think about what would happen if you were arrested for the same thing a year or two from now. Will you be able to do Project Reset again? Of course not, right? You only get one chance. Makes sense.

How do they know you aren’t eligible unless there is some record kept of the arrest? Who has access to this record and under what circumstances can it be accessed? Does that letter from the Government offering to settle your criminal case tell you about just how “sealed” that arrest information is? No, it doesn’t.

That’s because the Government is not your lawyer in a criminal case.

The Government also doesn’t provide any advice to you about whether you might be in a situation where taking part in their self described “diversionary program” could destroy your dreams of working in several fields regulated by the Government, or issues that might arise for non-citizens.

The Government also doesn’t provide information to you that would help you to evaluate the criminal charges themselves. Maybe the Government has a lousy case or even an illegal case that should be dismissed for legal reasons. Maybe the evidence obtained was obtained illegally and a credible argument could be made that the police violated the Constitution in seizing this evidence. Who at The Osborne Association is there to advise you about these possibilities? Nobody, because they are not your lawyer. They work for the Government that arrested you and is prosecuting you.

Now it may be that even people who learn that there may be Constitutional issues with the seizure of physical evidence will choose to forgo those claims and participate in Project Reset, but don’t you think that it is reasonable to have a thorough understanding of your situation in order to know what, if anything, you may be giving up by participating?

Would it be crazy, foolish, or a waste of money, to sit down with an experienced criminal defense lawyer, if only for an hour or so, just to have your situation evaluated by someone who isn’t working for the same Government that arrested you and charged you with a crime?

…Even if the ultimate decision were that yes, maybe Project Reset is for you.

There is a Simple Solution to this Issue

If that doesn’t sound crazy to you, as someone arrested for a crime who has been approached by the Government with an offer to settle the case, then we can help you.

We are a New York City criminal defense law firm with decades of experience in New York City Criminal Court. We would be happy to schedule an in person appointment with you (or video conference if you prefer) where we can take maybe an hour of your time to review your case, help you to understand the charges, possible defenses, possible legal issues, and rule out potential problems that could arise through participation in Project Reset. We charge a modest fee for this consultation, and if you ultimately determine that Project Reset is NOT for you, we will credit this fee toward our fee on the Desk Appearance Ticket matter. In some, even many cases, we may ultimately determine that Project Reset is a good fit for you, but in other cases there will be times when Project Reset, while offered perhaps with the best of intentions by the Government, is not a good idea.

Call or text us at 718-268-2171 to set up your “Project Reset Evaluation”.

…or just negotiate your own criminal case with the Government. What could possibly go wrong?



 
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One of the founding partners at Shalley and Murray, Don Murray has been a New York City criminal defense lawyer for more than 27 years. He can provide a brief, reasonably priced in person or video conference consultation to help you understand your criminal case, and whether Project Reset makes sense for you.

Call or text 718-268-2171 today.