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In The Tragic Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Questions Abound … and Legal Issues are Raised

PSHimages The tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman on Sunday has continued to sadden the country, as people try to come to terms with the death of the beloved actor considered by many to be among the best of his generation.  His death from a heroin overdose remains shocking in itself.  From a criminal law standpoint however, the investigation into Hoffman’s death and the subsequent arrests and incarceration of three individuals are just as shocking.  There are over 300 deaths caused by heroin overdoses a year in New York City.  Most are simply ruled an accidental overdose and closed.  In Hoffman’s case the NYPD arrested four people within three days and the courts initially held three of them without bail.  These arrests were the result of a tip from a “confidential informant” who allegedly knew of a heroin dealer who had interactions with Hoffman.  As a result, search warrants were issued, apartments were searched and individuals were detained.  Action this quickly and frankly, this extreme, is not the norm when a common citizen overdoses on heroin. 

The tip from the confidential informant led to the raid of a NoHo apartment building where approximately 350 packets of heroin were found.  The news has been unclear if all four individuals were inside the apartment at the time the warrant was executed or if a second warrant at a second apartment inside the same building was executed.  What is clear is that three individuals – Max Rosenblum, Julianna Luchkiw (Rosenblum’s girlfriend and a college student), and 57 year old Robert Vineberg – were arrested, arraigned and held without bail.  A fourth man was also arrested during the execution of the warrants but the Manhattan DA’s office declined to prosecute him due to lack of evidence that he had any control over the drugs. 

Rosenblum and Luchkiw share an apartment in the same building as Vineberg and were charged with Criminal Use of Drug Paraphernalia, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance (for a small quantity of cocaine that was discovered in their apartment) and Unlawful Possession of Marijuana.  These three crimes are all misdemeanors and being held without bail is simply unheard of without the existence of several other factors not present in their cases.    Fortunately, at Luchkiw’s and Rosenblum’s second court date, a few days after their arrest, cooler and more reasonable minds prevailed.  Ms. Luchkiw was released without any bail being required and Mr. Rosenblum was released after posting bail.  Rosenblum did have a prior warrant in his past and the judge rightfully took that into account when setting some bail on him. 

As for Mr. Vineberg, whose apartment did allegedly contain a large quantity of heroin, the argument certainly exists that he is deserving of bail being set as well.  Again, this is based on the experience that this firm has had with countless individuals charged with the possession and sale of a controlled substance.  It seems that the NYPD and the Manhattan DA’s office lack the evidence to prove that Mr. Vinegrad was the person who sold Mr. Hoffman the heroin.  Does the fact that they may have been acquaintances prove otherwise?  In this country we are innocent until proven guilty.  Furthermore, bail is a tool to ensure an individual’s return to court.  Bail is not meant to be punitive; its purpose is not to punish.  Shouldn’t Mr. Vineberg have the same opportunity that countless other men and women have had when charged with felony possession of a controlled substance – the opportunity to post a reasonable sum of money in order to be released and return to court?

The tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death brings to light so many issues – including the true scope of heroin addiction in our country and the downward spiral so often seen with drug abuse.  However, it also brings to light important legal issues about how drug crimes are investigated and the dangerous reality of law enforcement jumping to conclusions without the evidence to support such conclusions.  Unfortunately sometimes it isn’t just the police and the DA’s office, sometimes it is the judges and the public as well.    

The attorneys at Collins, McDonald & Gann are committed to protecting the rights of all those who have been accused or charged with any type of crime, and remain dedicated to ensuring that no client is ever used as a scapegoat when it comes to drug crimes and false accusations.  If you or someone you know is in need of legal counsel surrounding drug related charges or any type of criminal charges, call us 24/7 at 516-294-0300.

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