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eyes on the U.S.

Don't Smoke (Or Urinate) In Public: An Italian Lawyer's Tips For Visitors To The U.S.

Too many travelers ignore some pretty basic American laws that can seem foreign to them. Here's how it looks to the Italian go-to lawyer in New York for just such cases.

It's up to You...New...York
It's up to You...New...York
Maurizio Molinari

She was born in Bari and now lives in Harlem, argues before legal tribunals in New York and is a yoga fanatic. Her husband is an African American and she met her favourite actor, Denzel Washington, in a club. She's not even 40 years old, but studied in the University of Bari and identifies with both American and Italian cultures. Meet Germana Giordano, the woman who has dedicated her daily mission to aid her Italian compatriots in the legal system of New York.

Her Park Avenue office is where the majority of Italian tourists who infringe on the laws of the Big Apple come to seek help. Giordano, who usually works on homicide and other serious crime cases, spends her spare time aiding Italians who get caught in the web of the American justice system, which has become something of a mission for her.

The attorney's decision to speak with La Stampa stems from her belief that the root of the problems lie in a lack of knowledge of U.S. law. So, here's a quick guide to the most common crimes committed by Italians (and other foreign visitors?) in New York -- and how to avoid them.

Giordano is a trained criminal lawyer, and perhaps the only one among all of the Italian lawyers who offers support to the Italian Consulate in helping compatriots in distress. "There are four most common crimes" she says, "urinating in public, shoplifting, drinking and smoking in public places where it is forbidden."

Statistically, urinating in public has the highest number of cases: between 20 and 30 each year. All are men, not only young ones but the more mature as well, who behave in New York as it were any typical Italian city- they go off into a corner and take care of their needs. But in New York, if a police officer sees them doing it, he will arrest them to their utter disbelief. Fierce protests often pursue.

Sometimes in New York a criminal offense can lead to a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail. Giordano typically manages to get her clients acquitted or strike a plea bargain, hoping at least to get the legal battles in the archives of immigration rather than criminal departments.

"Even in the cases of acquittal where the criminal record is wiped clean, there are still some traces of the arrest in the immigration archives," she explains. "This means that when the person concerned wants to come back to the States and is requesting a visa, they must indicate the arrest on the form, otherwise this lie will lead to additional complications," and making it very difficult to come back into the U.S.

As for theft, "those who steal are almost always successful professionals or students with excellent CVs who, whilse shopping in a store are surprised by security with clothes in their bags. They defend themselves by saying the clothes ended up in there by accident.

Giordano sees about a dozen of these cases a year, involving depositions, interrogations, hearings and embarrassment on the part of the arrested who fear for their image if the story were to become public knowledge. In this case, the maximum penalty is 12 months in jail, or a fine, with the obligation to pay the legal fees whether or not the person is convicted.

If urinating in public is "a bad habit with criminal implications in New York," stealing from shops arises from the temptation to get away with it by a passing traveler. What they don't realize is that video surveillance and electronic access controls are everywhere in major American cities.

Another typical crime of Italians on holiday is drinking in public, explains Giordano. "They're stopped on the street with bottles or cans of beer that are not hidden in typical brown paper bags," she says, noting at least 10 cases like this each year.

Then there is the crime of smoking in public, like a certain Italian professional who was enjoying a cigarette in a park without realizing that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's new laws imposed a heavy fine. Even worse, the accused made matters worse by going to the police station and trying to resolve the situation himself.

Indeed, Giordano suggests to all foreigners who run into trouble with the law to consult right away with an attorney. When they receive a notification of a fine, visitors don't realize that a bona fide criminal case has been opened against them. Often, foreign travelers only find out how much trouble they've created for themselves in America when they apply for a visa to come back.

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