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Dead actor's friend gets probation for drug possession charge

In New York and elsewhere, special circumstances in a criminal case can sometimes allow for an agreement with the prosecution that is much better for the defendant than the charges and potential prison sentence would indicate. It usually takes the focused efforts of an experienced defense counsel to achieve that kind of favorable outcome. It appears that such an outcome was achieved on behalf of a jazz musician friend of Philip Seymour Hoffman in a recent guilty plea to a low-level drug possession charge by the man.

The defendant, a 58-year-old musician who sold Hoffman heroin in the past, was charged with various felony drug charges after police raided his apartment in the aftermath of Hoffman's suicide. The authorities allegedly found 300 bags of heroin in his apartment. In Court, the man entered a guilty plea to one reduced charge in return for a sentence of five years' probation, 25 days of community service, and entering a drug treatment program.

He faced up to 25 years in prison. The Manhattan District Attorney's office agreed to the deal because of "evidentiary" considerations. Apparently, defense counsel succeeded in convincing prosecutors that statements made by the defendant to the police at the time of arrest would be held inadmissible, thus perhaps defeating any chance that they would have to obtain a conviction.

The issue involves the defendant's purported requests for an attorney prior to the interrogations, in which he made incriminating statements about his drug possession and selling activities. Both of the New York detectives admitted that they had not given the defendant his Miranda rights at the time, and did not then honor his request for an attorney. The failure of authorities to honor such requests can violate the defendant's absolute right to counsel, and can render a confession involuntary, and inadmissible in evidence.

Source: New York Daily News, "Jazz musician arrested in wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman's overdose death gets no-jail deal", Barbara Ross, Aug. 28, 2014

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