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Criminal Justice System

NYC Criminal Justice System - Arraignment and Calendar Dates

Your first time in New York criminal court is the arraignment. Arraignment is a criminal proceeding in which the prosecutor (the State) can file charges, ask you to enter a plea (guilty or not guilty), and where bail conditions can be set. A total of 5 people are generally required for your New York arraignment; you, your attorney, the assistant district attorney, a criminal court judge, and a court reporter who writes down everything that is said. If you were arrested and given a desk appearance ticket, the arraignment date is your "return date" listed in the top portion of your appearance ticket. If you are arrested and held in jail for arraignment, 

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 it takes about 24 hours (sometimes less, and sometimes more) before you can meet with your attorney and see a judge. Different factors can influence how quickly the arraignment is held so it is advisable to contact an attorney as soon as possible. These factors include how long it takes your attorney to pick up your case, the complexity of your case, the borough your case is in, and how quickly the judge and court personnel process your case. Excessive delay in the arrest to arraignment process can violate your rights and your attorney may be able to force your release if you've been held for an excessive period of time. If you've been injured or become sick, the arraignment may happen at a local hospital where the judge, court reporter, prosecutor, and your attorney would appear at your bedside for the arraignment. Unfortunately, it can take days for the hospital arraignment to occur.

The charges at your arraignment may or may not be the same charges that you were arrested for. This is because the District Attorney can add charges. After you enter your plea at the arraignment, the criminal court judge can decide whether to hold you in jail (remand), set a money bail, release you on your own recognizance (ROR), and whether to set additional conditions (such as license suspension, surety, orders of protection, travel restrictions, etc). The judge makes this decision after hearing arguments from the district attorney and your criminal defense attorney. Arraignment in New York is a critical stage of your case because important rights are being affected. A lot is at stake. You can lose your freedom, lose access to property, lose your license, and you could get a conviction. Because criminal convictions are permanent, mishandling the arraignment could lead to serious employment problems, immigration problems, international travel problems, the permanent loss of a professional or driver's license, and other consequences. In certain cases, you could even lose access to your home or the ability to go back to work.

Following arraignment, your case can be rescheduled for further proceedings. These proceedings are designed to give your attorney the ability to file motions, review the evidence, and prepare for trial. During this period of time, the prosecutor can continue to investigate, respond to your attorney's motions, and prepare for trial. In New York City, these post-arraignment proceedings can last for may court appearances spread over many months and sometimes over a year due to court congestion. If your attorney is unable to resolve the case during these pre-trial court appearances, your case may be scheduled for hearings and trial. These hearings are suppression hearings which must happen before the trial.

NYC Criminal Justice System - Suppression Hearings

Suppression hearings are a common phase of a criminal case in the United States. The purpose is to determine what evidence, if any, can be properly introduced against you at your trial. In New York, these hearings usually take place before trial and after months or over a year of court appearances but this differs from State to State (In Pennsylvania, suppression hearings happen right after arrest.). The basic purpose of the suppression hearing is to decide if the evidence that is intended to be used against you at trial was gathered in a lawful way as to ensure that your rights have not been violated and you receive a fair trial. The process of a hearing is very similar to an actual trial. There is testimony from witnesses and both sides are able to ask questions and make arguments as to why evidence should be allowed or prohibited. In a hearing there is no jury and the judge makes the final decision on whether evidence is admissible. This is due the fact that the jury’s purpose is to determine the facts of a case and whether a person is guilty. Hearings are based on the law and admissibility of evidence. Suppression hearings in New York are usually named after a landmark case that has set the law on a particular issue. Some of the most common New York hearings are Wade, Huntley, Dunaway, and Mapp hearings. nyc criminal process

A Wade hearing is a pre-trial hearing that occurs when the State is planning on offering evidence regarding an identification of the defendant. It gets it's name from the ruling in United States v. Wade 388 U.S. 218 (1967) in which the US Supreme Court ruled that a criminal defendant has the right to counsel during a lineup held after indictment. The New York Wade hearing determines if the procedure of the identification was fair and not suggestive. A common identification procedure is the lineup. If the defendant is a young White male and he is put in a line up with older, Asian males then the lineup was not fair and any identification that occurred could be suppressed at trial. If the State is not intending on offering any evidence regarding an identification though, then there is no need to have this hearing.

A Huntley hearing is a New York hearing to determine if any statements that you allegedly made to police may be used against you. It gets it's name from People v. Huntley 15 N.Y. 2d 72 (1965). In this hearing you are challenging the procedure that the police used to gather statements from you. If the statements were coerced, gathered through physical violence, or if you were not made aware of your right to an attorney and remain silent (commonly known as your Miranda Rights) any statements you made to police would not be allowed at trial. This hearing does not pertain to statements made to non-police parties however. Therefore, if the State is intending to use a statement that you made to your boss, for example, there would be no need for a hearing. Still, an argument can and should be made that any statement or confession you gave to a non-police party should be suppressed because the non-police party (such as a corporate security officer) was acting so much like a police officer that Huntley should still apply. We have had success with this argument in cases involving corporate and retail theft where clients have been interrogated extensively by private parties before the police make an arrest.

A Mapp hearing is a New York hearing regarding the physical evidence, such as documents, computers, drugs or a gun, that the State intends to offer against you at trial. It gets it's name from Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained in violation of your 4th Amendment rights cannot be used in your state criminal case. Previously this was only true regarding federal criminal cases but Mapp extended the 4th Amendment to state level cases. So, this New York hearing deals with your 4th Amendment search and seizure rights. This hearing is very factually based and deals with warrantless searches. While warrants are generally required to conduct a search, there are several exceptions to the warrant requirement. If you can show that the police gathered physical evidence without a warrant and in a way that does not fall into one of the exceptions, then that evidence will be suppressed at trial. In cases where the physical evidence is necessary, like in a drug case, your case could be dismissed by winning this pre-trial hearing.

Suppression hearings are the final stage prior to an actual trial. They are an extremely important stage of your defense and can be vital to your case. The outcome of the hearings not only controls what evidence is admissible at trial, but can also have an effect on any offer the State is willing to make. Suppressing evidence weakens the case against you and can result in better offers. However, if all the evidence is deemed to be admissible than the State’s case is strengthened and any prior offers could be withdrawn and no longer available. If you or a loved one is facing a New York suppression hearing in criminal court, contact us for a Evaluation evaluation.

NYC Criminal Justice System - Trial

Unless there's an appeal, the trial is the final stage of your New York criminal case. At a trial the State will attempt to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If they can do this, you will be found guilty and sentenced by the judge. If they fail, you will be acquitted of the charge and Evaluation to go. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof in the American legal system and very complex. How this is decided depends upon the type of trial you will have. In a bench trial the judge decides all the issues of the case. He or she rules upon any objections made and determines your guilt or innocence. In a jury trial, the jury determines the facts of the case and determines your guilt. The judge still makes decisions on issues of law, such as objections made by attorneys. If the charge is a misdemeanor charge the jury will consist of 6 jurors. If the charge is a felony then the jury will have 12 members. Regardless of the size of the jury, a verdict must be unanimous for you to be found guilty or acquitted of the charges. If a unanimous verdict cannot be reached (a hung jury) then a mistrial will be the result. While this doesn’t result in you being found guilty, the State is permitted to to try you again on these charges. It will not violate double jeopardy. The basic structure of a trial has four components: the opening statements, People’s case, Defendant’s case, and closing statements.

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At the beginning of your trial the prosecutor and your attorney will each be given an opportunity to give an opening statement to the jury (or judge if a bench trial). The opening statement is the chance for the attorneys to let the jury know what their theory of the case is, and what to expect during the trial. The prosecutor is required to give an opening statement and lay out a basic plan of how they will prove you guilty of each element of the charge. Failure to give a legally sufficient opening statement could result in a dismissal. Your attorney is not required to give an opening statement, although usually it will happen. Your attorney may argue simply that the evidence the State will show is inadequate to convict you or if you have a defense you will be raising, such as self-defense, your attorney could raise that defense at this point. The prosecutor gives the opening statement first followed by your opening statement. Opening statements are important because they can set the stage for the rest of the case by making the most favorable impression possible on the jurors.

After the opening statements the State will begin their case in chief. This will include all the witnesses they intend to call and evidence they intend to use against you. The witnesses can be as few as one person being called, usually an officer, to as many as necessary to show you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For each witness that the prosecutor calls and questions, your attorney will be given an opportunity to cross examine them as well. This is your opportunity to attack the People’s case against you. Your attorney will also be able to object to any questions the prosecutor asks or evidence they try to admit.

After the State finishes calling all of their witnesses it is your turn to call any witnesses you may have or you may testify on your own behalf. You have a right to be heard in your own defense, but you also have the right to remain silent and not testify. If you choose not to testify, the prosecutor will not be allowed to argue that fact in his closing argument and the jury will be instructed not to use that against you. As your attorney was allowed to cross examine the State’s witnesses, the prosecutor will be permitted to cross examine any witnesses you call including yourself. Sometimes defendants don’t have witnesses to call and choose not to put on a case. In these circumstances they are counting on the fact that the State can’t meet the burden of beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether or not you testify during your criminal case is a very important decision to make. People generally want to hear from the accused but if you don't have a very good explanation or aren't a very good speaker, you could hurt your chances of an acquittal by testifying.

After both sides have called all their witnesses each side will be permitted the opportunity to make a closing argument. The prosecutor will attempt to explain the evidence he presented and how it proves your guilt, while your attorney will either attempt to show the holes in the prosecutor’s argument or how the evidence supports your defense. After the closing arguments, the jury will be given time to reach a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If found guilty, the judge determines the sentence which could be anything up to the maximum permitted by law (up to 1 year in jail for certain misdemeanors and up to 25 years in jail for certain felonies). If you or a loved one is facing trial on a New York criminal case, contact us for a Evaluation evaluation.

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