Felony Arrest After Alleged Knife Fight

With too many prior felonies on his record, man is held without bail

     East Hampton Town police reported that they arrested a man on Wednesday afternoon after a fight between two neighbors on Three Mile Harbor Road in which a weapon was used.

     Detective Lt. Chris Anderson said Melvin C. Smith, 46, had injured a man with whom he had “an ongoing dispute” late in the afternoon on Tuesday. The other man suffered lacerations, Detective Anderson said.

     Mr. Smith was charged with assault in the second degree, which is a class D felony, and a misdemeanor charge of possession of a deadly weapon, a knife.

     Because Mr. Smith has more than two felony convictions on his record, East Hampton Town Justice Catharine A. Cahill said at his arraignment Thursday that under New York's penal code, she was not permitted to set bail on the new felony charge. Mr. Smith’s attorney, Joseph Giannini, disputed the actual number of convictions Mr. Smith has on his record, and said that his client is innocent.

     Mr. Smith is being held without bail in the Suffolk County jail in Riverside.

     According to Maggie Bopp, a Suffolk County assistant district attorney, Mr. Smith was convicted of rape and sodomy in 1986, when he was 18. Ms. Bopp made that statement during a heated exchange with Mr. Giannini during Mr. Smith’s arraignment.

     In July of last year, Mr. Smith was arrested by East Hampton Town police for failing to update his address in the New York State sexual offender registration. “They arrested him on a technicality,” Mr. Giannini said Friday of the 2012 arrest. He also said that, regarding Mr. Smith’s address not being registered, “the police knew full well where he lives,” since he and his family have resided on the same East Hampton street since the mid-1970s.

     Mr. Smith pleaded guilty to that charge, a class E felony, and was due to be sentenced on Wednesday.

     The question of the number of convictions of Mr. Smith that should be counted for bail purposes produced a confrontation between the two attorneys at Mr. Smith’s arraignment.

     "He has only two prior felony convictions," Mr. Giannini said, arguing that Mr. Smith should be eligible for a bail determination because he had yet to be sentenced for what he said would be Mr. Smith’s second conviction.

     "He has seven felony convictions, even if you don't want to count his latest," Ms. Bopp relied.

     "That was 1986, over 25 years ago," Mr. Giannini answered, adding that two of the felony convictions Ms. Bopp was referring to had occurred for incidents that happened in prison, and should not be counted when considering bail.

     Ms. Bopp then read off, in rapid succession, a series of felony convictions, including four from the 1986 incident that involved the rape and sodomy charges Mr. Smith was convicted for, as well as two convictions stemming from separate prison incidents in which Mr. Smith possessed a homemade knife.

     Mr. Giannini quoted his client's reaction to the arrest. " 'Yes, I had a fight. It was over money,' " he said Mr. Smith told him, adding that Mr. Smith then said, " 'I did not have a knife.' "

     Mr. Giannini told the court that his client would testify in his own defense to the grand jury in Riverhead, which will occur in the next couple of days, and that Mr. Smith would submit to a polygraph lie-detector test.

     "A witness to the fight is sitting here in court," Mr. Giannini told the judge.

       The man Mr. Giannini was referring to, whom Mr. Giannini identified as Brandon Albert, called Mr. Smith’s arrest “ridiculous” as he was leaving court.

     According to Mr. Giannini, police have yet to interview Mr. Albert.

     Justice Cahill told Mr. Giannini that she would not have the case argued during the arraignment, and Mr. Smith was led away by an East Hampton Town police officer who immediately turned him over to a waiting Suffolk County Sheriff's Department officer. Mr. Smith was then transported to the Suffolk County jail.

     According to Mr. Giannini, the victim went to Southampton Hospital, then left the hospital a short time after entering and went to police headquarters, where he made the allegations against Mr. Smith that led to the arrest.

     Mr. Smith, who has spent much of his adult life in prison, “has worked very hard the past few years to put his life together,” Mr. Giannini said Friday.

     “They’re holding his past against him. They won’t let it go,” he said.