Your Long Island Criminal Case: The Basics

You'v been arrested by an officer from one of Long Island's many police departments. She shows up and issues you a citation. When or where is your court date? Should you get a lawyer? What consequences will you face? Being labeled a criminal by society is a embarrassing and confusing process, which is why FindLaw has created this guide to inform you about Long Island criminal cases. Please note that the procedures below are a very general description and each case may proceed differently than another. For answers and information specific to your case, you may want to contact a local attorney specializing in criminal law.

Know Your Rights

An investigative detention or arrest counts as a seizure and triggers the Fourth Amendment protections. Specifically, you cannot be detained, even temporarily, unless the police officer has reasonable suspicion that you committed a criminal offense. Further, you cannot be arrested unless the officer has probable cause to believe you are guilty. These technicalities may become important later should you or your attorney file a motion to suppress evidence (under New York Code Article 710), which alleges that certain evidence was unconstitutionally gathered. Any such evidence may be excluded from court and hidden from the jury's eyes.

Everyone has heard the familiar Miranda warning, "you have the right to remain silent," but many suspects waive this Fifth Amendment right and answer questions posed by the police. Although it is entirely up to you, keeping silent and requesting an attorney may not be a bad idea.

Finally, you also have a Sixth Amendment right to have counsel present at most criminal proceedings. Generally, this right is initiated at your arraignment because you have a chance to enter a plea. After hearing the charges against you, you can ask the judge to appoint a public defender from either the Suffolk or Nassau County Legal Aid Society, depending on which court you are in.

You Are Under Arrest

If you are unfortunate enough to have been arrested, you will be transported to either the Nassau County Correctional Center at 100 Carman Avenue or the Suffolk County Jail at 100 Center Drive. If you need to visit a loved one in jail, read through this visitor's guide to Suffolk County Jail (though many of the rules are fairly universal). Call ahead at (631) 852-2200 for Suffolk County or (516) 572-4101 for Nassau.

If arrested, you will likely be held at the jail until your arraignment, which is your first chance to hear the formal charges against you, enter a plea, ask for an appointed defense attorney, and determine bail. Generally, the most important aspect of arraignment is bail. Bail is a monetary deposit you provide to the court in exchange for your freedom while awaiting trial. It will be returned to you should you attend all your scheduled court dates. It functions as a sort of collateral against you fleeing the jurisdiction. Best case scenario, the judge releases you on your "own recognizance." If the judge sets bail but you can't afford it, you can try speaking to a Long Island bail bonds company. Bail bondsmen typically loan the full amount of the bail in exchange for 10%. For serious cases or when the judge believes there is a flight risk, bail may be denied altogether.

Preliminary Hearing

Your next important court date generally is your preliminary hearing, which is basically a mini-trial. The prosecutor must prove to the judge that probable cause exists to justify holding a trial. There will be no jury, but this hearing may provide a sneak peak at the evidence the state has and may provide an opportunity for a defense attorney to cross examine witnesses. The evidentiary burden on the prosecutor is quite low, and if it is satisfied, the judge will hold a defendant to answer for the charges and set a trial date.

Trial

The final stage of a criminal case is the jury trial. The attorneys will begin by giving opening statements and presenting evidence. Evidence is usually oral testimony, but can also be physical objects, maps or audio and video recordings. At the end, the lawyers will have a chance to comment on the evidence in closing argument. Finally, the judge will instruct the jury on the law and allow them to deliberate in private.

You can only be convicted of a crime if every juror unanimously agrees on your guilt. If even a single juror disagrees, the trial ends in a mistrial. A mistrial is a huge victory for the defendant, but beware that the State may be able to re-file the same criminal charges if they wish. If every juror votes to acquit, however, the state cannot re-file charges. If you have questions or require assistance on a specific case, you may want to direct inquiries to a public defender or attorney specializing in criminal defense. FindLaw also has general information about specific charges, too.

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