You’ve been arrested and charged and you have every right to be nervous. The criminal courts of New York State and the local municipalities can indeed be intimidating places. Understanding the legal proceedings can be difficult. Here we provide a general overview of how things work in the area courts. Consulting with an experienced attorney, however, is the best way to know for certain which route your case will take.
Whether you were caught in the commission of a criminal offense or served a warrant, your entrance into the New York criminal system usually begins with an arrest. The police have to follow very specific protocol when placing you under arrest. Though they have to maintain control of the situation, they cannot infringe upon your rights. From the manner in which they conduct any searches to how they physically handle the arrest—everything they do is under scrutiny and a potential tool to use in your defense strategy.Charged with a crime in New York? Please call (888) 435-4744.
Arraignment vs. Desk Appearance Ticket
Following your arrest, your case will take one of two courses—either an arraignment or a desk appearance ticket.
A desk appearance ticket is typically used in misdemeanor cases and E felony offenses. This is where you will be given a ticket that mandates your appearance in court (likely for an arraignment) at a later date. You are then released until that date.
An arraignment, however, is when you are held in jail until your first court appearance, where you are formally charged. Before your arraignment, you are a suspect or arrestee; after, you are a defendant. In most cases if you are not given a desk appearance ticket, you will be arraigned within 24 hours of your arrest. At the arraignment, the judge will also visit the issue of bail.
Bail is, essentially, collateral or a promise that you will appear for future court dates. A judge tries to determine whether or not you are a “flight risk” when deciding whether to grant bail and if so, how much to set it at. Often the prosecution will oppose bail but it’s your defense lawyer’s job to help convince the judge that you are not a flight risk and can be released without worry.
If the judge decides you are not a flight risk and you pose no risk to the community or yourself, you may be released on your own “personal recognizance”. This means you will not be required to pay any money and instead will be trusted to return. Even if you are required to put up money for your release, a bondsman can be hired to post the bond for you, typically at a 10% fee.
Grand Jury Indictment
In all felony cases a grand jury indictment is necessary for the case to move forward. The grand jury is a group of 16 to 23 people who gather together and review evidence of the case. If they find there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that you may have been the one to do it, they will issue an indictment. This is one way in which the prosecution’s case against you is tested.
It is not difficult to get an indictment. The prosecution does not have to prove guilt, merely that there is evidence and probable cause present to believe that you committed the offense. If you are indicted, your case will be remanded to the Supreme Court where you will be arraigned.
The vast majority of cases in the United States and in New York never make it to trial. Instead they are settled by a plea agreement. Ideally, plea agreements are beneficial to both the defendant and the prosecution. However, even in cases where the defendant is innocent, the prosecutor will try to get them to accept a plea agreement in order to gain another “win” for themselves.
If you are guilty of a crime, however, a plea agreement can offer you a chance for a more lenient sentence or reduced charges in exchange for your admittance of wrongdoing.
If your case makes it to trial, which it likely won’t, it could take months from the date of your arrest. While every single trial is different, they typically follow this basic outline:
- Pre-trial Motions
- Jury Selection
- Opening Statements
- Presentation of Evidence
- Closing Arguments
- Jury Instructions/ Judge’s Charge
The adversarial nature of the New York criminal courts means the prosecution and defense take turns throughout the trial. The prosecution has their opportunity for opening statements followed by the defense’s opening statements. When presenting evidence, the defense has the opportunity to counter the prosecution’s evidence with cross-examination, potentially the most crucial part of the case.
The prosecution must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a crime was committed and it was the defendant who committed it. This is a relatively high burden to meet and one that a criminal defense attorney will fight throughout.