The legal procedures involved with the criminal process are varied and sometimes confusing. Although most states follow the same basic steps, each can vary in some details. This guide explains the basic criminal process in New York.
Under Arrest in New York
In New York, a police officer can place you under arrest if he or she believes an offense has taken place or that it's in the process of taking place. You're then taken into custody. In order to make the arrest, the officer must have probable cause, must have observed the crime, or must have a warrant for your arrest.
If you're arrested without being advised of your Miranda rights, nothing you said to the officer is admissible as evidence against you at trial. Arresting officers must be certain you know your Miranda rights, the two most important being: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
The booking process is conducted at the jail after you're arrested. Personal information is taken from you at this time. The process includes fingerprinting, creating a rap sheet or a fingerprint report, and photographs will be taken. Your personal items are confiscated, and sometimes a full body search is conducted before you're placed in a holding cell. In New York, you'll also receive medical screening.
Setting Bail and Release
After arrest, a defendant is held in a cell for the duration of precinct processing, which can take as long as six hours. You must be arraigned within 24 hours. If you're arrested on a Friday, it may be Monday before you appear before a judge. Bail arrangements are made at the arraignment phase. The charges against you are read and you can reply with a plea. At an arraignment, you typically plead guilty or not guilty. You can be released without bail on your own recognizance for some charges. A warrant for your arrest will be issued if you fail to reappear in court when summoned.
Most criminal cases are resolved through plea bargaining. This involves mutually satisfactory agreement between the prosecution and your lawyer subject to court approval. If no deal is reached, you will be charged.
Indictment by Grand Jury
New York’s grand jury address felonies and determines if the evidence against you is sufficient to charge you. Grand jury proceedings are held in secret, and the defendant is not permitted to attend. Grand jury proceedings take place within six days of arrest. If the grand jury doesn’t believe there's enough evidence against you to charge you, you'll be released. However, the case against you might not be dismissed and more court dates might be set. If the grand jury finds there is enough evidence that you committed a crime, it can file an indictment against you.
The Trial and Sentencing:
Non-homicide cases must be tried within six months of the filing of the felony complaint in New York. Misdemeanors must be tried within 90 days. The prosecutor and your lawyer alternate offering evidence and questioning witnesses at trial. This includes cross-examining witnesses on both sides. If you're found guilty of a misdemeanor, the judge may sentence you on the spot. With felonies, the judge usually sets a new court date for sentencing. If you’re found guilty, the judge has sentencing discretion using guidelines, mitigating or aggravating factors, and plea agreement provisions.
Get Help From a Criminal Lawyer
This basic guide is not comprehensive. Anyone who is accused of committing a crime in New York should retain a criminal defense attorney for the best representation and the best possible outcome.