One of the first and truly important things that a New York City criminal defense attorney does in handling a case is the arraignment. Arraignments happen in all five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island) of New York City from the hours of 9 am through 1 am every day, 365 days a year. Easily one of the most terrifying parts of a New York City criminal case is the time period leading up to and including the initial arraignment on the charges. There is a lot that goes on in this crucial time period. Thus, it is absolutely critical that you call an experienced New York City Arraignment lawyer immediately.
The time period is as critical as it is stressful because all of the evidence that exists (or doesn’t exist) that either inculpates or exonerates a person who was just arrested is gathered during this time period. So while you or a loved one is languishing in jail awaiting to see what the police are going to do to you, there is often no one available to find the evidence that can help you and to level the playing field with the police. Also there is no one giving you advice regarding what to do. So while you are waiting and doing nothing, the police are working with the District Attorney’s Office to build a case against you. The things that happen in this time period will dictate every single factor about the case and will ultimately make or break the case as a whole. The things that happen in this time period can be the difference between getting the charges dismissed, getting a favorable plea bargain, or prevailing at trial. It is therefore critical for you or your loved ones to contact an experienced New York criminal defense attorney who can help you in your time of need.
But what exactly happens in this time period? What can you expect? What is an arraignment? And how can a good lawyer help you? These questions will all be answered in turn.
You were arrested because the police determined they had reasonable cause (legal standard meaning “more likely than not,” also known as “probable cause”) to believe that you committed a crime. This section of the website presumes you were not given a Desk Appearance Ticket and are being put through the system right away. Either way, you were arrested because the police believe they had probable cause to arrest you. The belief that you committed a crime either comes from observations that the police officers made or based on conversations with civilian witnesses who identified you as the culprit of criminal conduct they saw you commit. Once a civilian witness tells a cop that you committed a crime, the police automatically have the legal right to arrest you. This is true irrespective of how ridiculous the claim might be. However, for you to be convicted of the crime, probable cause isn’t enough. The police need to gather evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. The discrepancy between the legal standards of probable cause (called “reasonable cause” in New York) and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” is where all the litigation in criminal cases centers around. So after the police make the arrest, they need to gather all the evidence they will use because that evidence will quickly disappear. All the while, you can’t level the playing field because you are in a jail cell. So if an eyewitness saw the crime, now is the time to get that person’s information so they can be contacted later. If the police want to speak to you, now is the time because you don’t have a lawyer yet so they can interrogate you without interference. If the police want to get surveillance footage, now is the time to get it because it will erase in a matter of days. In fact, the first 24-48 hours in a criminal case are by far the most important. This is why you need an experienced New York criminal lawyer FAST!
While the police are gathering the evidence they intend to use in the criminal prosecution of you, they are also “processing” your arrest. This means they are taking your pedigree information like your name, date of birth, address, etc. They are also taking a picture of you and are taking your fingerprints. They then send the fingerprints to a central electronic repository so they can be matched against the fingerprints in the database. Then based on the result of this match, the police determine if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime before, have any open cases, used difference names in the past, etc. They then fill out requisite paperwork that includes a complaint report (NYPD Form UF-61) and arrest report. They also take all the physical evidence and property associated with the case (including your cell phone) and they voucher it. This means they put it in a sealed bag and give it a unique number that will always be associated with your case. The police then make any last ditch efforts to enhance the case by trying to take a statement from you or they place you in a lineup. Once all of this is included (usually 6-18 hours after you were initially arrested), the police then send all the requisite paperwork associated with you and your case to the District Attorney’s Office. The District Attorney’s Office then speaks to the case officer (known as the arresting officer in NYPD lingo) and that person then tells the prosecutor what it is that you are alleged to have done. This is based upon interviews of witnesses, evidence recovered, etc. The District Attorney’s Office then documents the conversation with the police and writes out a formal “complaint” based upon what the officer said. It is important to note here that it is the District Attorney who makes the decision on how to proceed with a case and what charges are appropriate and not the police. Thus, the decision as to what crimes to actually charge are made now, about 18-24 hours after your arrest, and are made by a lawyer and not the officer. This complaint that the District Attorney’s Office generates has a barebones narrative of what you are accused of doing. It also officially lists the charges. The District Attorney may wish to gain additional evidence by requesting to have the officer bring you to him so he can take a statement from him. After the District Attorney is finished writing up the complaint, he then faxes it back to the officer who then reads it and signs it if it is an accurate reflection of what the officer alleges happened. This complaint can contain conversations that the officer may have had with civilian witnesses (legally referred to as “hearsay”). Once the officer signs the complaint, he sends it back to the DA’s Office. The DA’s Office then files the document with the court. This is after the DA is finished making all the requisite copies and NYPD has successfully “broken down” the papers (made copies of everything and received all the papers). While this happens, the police transport you to the courthouse and place you in central booking. This is the last place you have to wait before the court is ready. Once the court receives all the paperwork. Once all the papers are ready, the court gives your case a docket number. This is a unique number used to identify the case for court purposes.
Once the case is docketed and you are brought up from central booking to court, the case is now ready for arraignment. The arraignment on a criminal court complaint is officially the beginning of the case. The purpose of the arraignment is three fold. It is to alert you that there is a case against you and to tell you what the charges are, to have your rights read to you (this is usually waived by your lawyer who presumably tells you these rights when you speak to him or her), and to have the judge determine what bail is appropriate. At this point, the defense attorney is given a copy of the complaint. Then the judge asks the DA if they are asking for bail (the concept of bail can be confusing and is often misunderstood, click either here to read more about it or view the FAQ section of the page). The DA will then give a narrative of what the accusations are and will give the judge an idea as to what your criminal record and contacts with the community are. Your lawyer will then have an opportunity to argue that the judge should issue lesser bail or should release you outright. The judge makes a determination as to what appropriate bail should be based upon the arguments by the prosecutor and your lawyer. The issue as to how much bail should be given depends essentially on three factors in New York state court. They are what is the strength of the case, how much jail time you are you facing if convicted, and what contacts you have with New York. Thus, a person who is facing a 10- year mandatory minimum on a strong case in which he’s previously been convicted of similar conduct and who has no contacts with New York is probably going to have more bail set than a first-time arrest misdemeanor case where the person is a lifelong New York resident.
There is no doubt that the arraignment procedure is very stressful for a recently arrested person. It is often the person’s first contact with a criminal court proceeding and there’s a lot going on and it happens fast. The arraignment often sets the tone for the entirety of the case. How much bail is set and how judges see the case are often decided at this initial proceeding. Moreover, there is a kind of tactical chess that goes on during the proceeding and a lawyer needs to be very careful about what he says and doesn’t say during the proceeding. A bad lawyer can inadvertently say something that might close off a valuable defense strategy later in the case whereas a good lawyer can win your freedom forever in just this one proceeding. The arraignment is just the beginning though. After the arraignment, the case proceeds in different ways depending on the type of case that it is. It is therefore very important for you to retain an experienced New York criminal defense attorney who can represent you for this very important proceeding. Contact John Buza today if you or a loved one is awaiting arraignment. John Buza is available 24/7.