When you are arrested in New York City and charged with a felony or misdemeanor, the police bring you to a particular precinct where they usually attempt to take a statement. Whether or not you have been advised of your Miranda rights or given an opportunity to make a telephone call, you should inform the police that you want to talk with your lawyer. Don't be intimidated. Once you make it clear that you wish to speak with an attorney, if the police started to question you they must. Not only will this prevent you from incriminating yourself, but reaching out to an attorney will often expedite the process. Always be polite and give your personal information (name, date of birth, etc.), but don't discuss the facts of the alleged crime. Note, if you give false personal information after being advised it is a crime to do so, you can be charged with a new crime. At the precinct you will be printed before moving on. This process can take a relatively short time and up to four or five hours.
After the Precinct - Central Booking and the "Tombs"
Central Booking is where all the precincts in a particular county bring their defendants. You will be held there with other prisoners whether they are accused of jumping a turnstile or assault. At some point while you are in custody you will meet with someone from the Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) who will make a recommendation to the court as to whether bail should or should not be set in your case. This determination is an assessment of your potential risk of fleeing if you are released. Therefore, it is important to share with these people any ties you have to the community such as how long you resided at an address, whether your residence is in New York, whether your family is in New York and any other relevant information. Although the determination by CJA is not controlling on the court, anything that can show your ties to the community and that you are not a risk of flight will increase the likelihood of lower or no bail. Do not discuss the facts of your case.
Arraignment - Seeing the Judge
If you have not retained a criminal defense attorney you will first meet your public lawyer while waiting to see the judge. He or she will likely have numerous other clients to represent as well. Once you go before the judge, the judge will ask your plea. At that time your attorney will plead not guilty on your behalf. The prosecution may or may not make an offer. If there is an offer and you accept it, your case may be finished. If not, the prosecutors often give notices to your attorney about property recovered from you, statements you made and witness identifications of you. Depending on the nature of the case, the prosecution may ask for bail. Your attorney will argue against it and the judge will render a decision. If you are jailed on bail, it is likely that you will be returned to court within six days for your next court date. If you are released your return date could bee weeks or months away. It is usually helpful to have family at your arraignment.
A judge generally sets bail in one of two ways. Bail is set in cash or in bond. The legal purpose of setting bail is so that a judge can "guarantee" the accused returns to court. In other words, the money is used as an incentive to the defendant to return to court. If the accused returns as required even if convicted after trial, most or all of the money is returned. If the accused fails to come to court, then the monies will not be returned. Unfortunately, although the legal purpose of bail is to make sure a defendant returns to court, prosecutors often seek bail as a means to force a plea if the bail is so much that an accused cannot post the money and remains incarcerated.
If a bond is set, you should see a bail bondsmen who will charge you a percentage of the bond. In the alternative, cash bail can be used as well. Cash does not literally have to be cash, but can be a certified check, money order or similar means.
Private Attorney or Public Defender
Make no mistake. There are some amazing public defenders. However, retaining an attorney can often make an enormous difference in your case. You will not meet your public defender until you are waiting to see the judge. Therefore your public lawyer will have lost hours to investigate before you see the judge. Its much harder to track down witnesses ten hours later. Moreover, a private attorney will attempt to expedite your case while a public defender will not learn of your case until you meet. That same public defender is also assigned to that courtroom for the day or evening and may have five, ten or twenty other clients. Another factor to consider is that what happens at arraignments can have a major impact on your case. Your public defender might do something your private attorney disagrees with. No attorney, public or private, can guarantee you a particular result. Yet, there is one guarantee you deserve. Your attorney will zealously fight for your rights, integrity and liberty.
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