Your New York Criminal Case: The Basics
There's a lot of misinformation out there regarding criminal law and procedure in New York City. Law and Order might have you believe that matters are resolved quickly. However, reality isn't always quite as kind. No matter what the charges, getting arrested is stressful and confusing. FindLaw offers this guide to a criminal case to clear up some of the confusion.
When a person is arrested, officers will try to confirm that person's identity. Arrestees are taken to the local precinct for initial questioning, and also for the police to take fingerprints and photographs, as necessary. From there, your process to arraignment can go one of two ways.
Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT)
Police officers give Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs) to arrestees as written notice of an arraignment. The ticket tells the person when and where to appear. An individual must be eligible for a DAT process, and DATs may be issued after warrantless arrests for noncriminal violations, misdemeanors, and Class E felonies. No citizen is automatically entitled to a DAT process; instead, officers give DATs to eligible offenders at their discretion.
Individuals familiar with the system suggest that an arrestee is more likely to get a DAT, as opposed to an arraignment through Central Booking, if he or she has an attorney. This demonstrates that you are unlikely to flee the jurisdiction. If someone you know calls you because he/she has been arrested, it may be helpful to call an attorney, as they are familiar with the system and may be able to get the individual involved released relatively quickly. There are numerous horror stories from folks who have reported waiting for days for arraignment and release.
When police do not release a suspect, and do not give a DAT, they take him/her to Central Booking prior to arraignment. This is a holding area at or near the borough's courthouse. Courts are supposed to arraign suspects within 24 hours of arrest, but arrestees often have to stay longer in the holding cell if the court is closed after hours, or if there is a log-jam of court activity.
Pretrial Interview and Bail
The court tries to interview suspects before they appear in court. This process helps the court learn whether a suspect will have a private attorney or will need a public defender. A court officer will also try to gather information that will help a judge decide to either:
- release a suspect;
- set bail; or
- keep a suspect in custody.
If a judge sets a bail amount, you have several options for payment, detailed on the Department of Correction's website. Cash bail is generally refundable unless a defendant fails to appear at a court date or fails to comply with a court order. Provide a reliable address when posting bail because the court will automatically send your cash bail refund to that address eight (8) weeks after the case closes, so long as there has not been a forfeiture. For more information, see the City's pamphlet on the cash bail refund process.
The arraignment is a suspect's first court appearance. This is where and when the prosecution gives notice of the charges. If a suspect is here via Central Booking, the judge will also decide whether to release him, set bail, or remand him into custody. If released, with or without bail, pay attention to court orders. Failure to follow the court's instructions could lead the court to issue an arrest warrant.
At this point, it's possible you have either hired or been assigned counsel. That attorney is the most reliable source of information for your specific case. Some criminal defendants are hesitant to cooperate with their attorneys, but this is a mistake.
A lawyer is generally not allowed to reveal information about a client if it would be embarrassing or harmful to the client to do so. You can also request that information remain "confidential." This means that you can be honest and open with your lawyer without fearing that he or she will repeat it to someone else.
There are a few exceptions to the confidentiality requirement. An attorney can release information to prevent another person's death or substantial bodily harm, or to prevent a client from committing a crime. So, don't approach your attorney with plans to lie in court or to prevent a witness from testifying. For more on exceptions, refer to Rule 1.6 (b) in the New York Rules of Professional Conduct.
The courts try to resolve criminal cases quickly, especially if the defendant remains in custody. The state's speedy trial laws generally require that a felony trial begin within six months from the time that the prosecution presses formal charges. Where a defendant is charged with a misdemeanor punishable by more than three months, the prosecution has 90 days to put its case together. It has 60 days when charging a misdemeanor punishable by fewer than three months. When a defendant is in custody, the prosecution has even less time to put on their case. There are numerous nuances and exceptions to these rules, so it is best to talk to your attorney about your specific case.
You may have additional questions about your criminal case, and your attorney may be temporarily unavailable. Other resources may be able to resolve basic questions, although they are not a substitute for counsel. If you have questions about finding the correct courthouse, see FindLaw's page on New York Courthouses. If you were arrested for Driving While Intoxicated, see the guide to New York DWI cases. The New York City Bar also offers a Criminal Justice Handbook. Good luck on your journey through the court system.
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