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Pleas & Court Appearances in New York Criminal Courts
by: Susan Chana Lask, Esq.
At arraignment, the District Attorney may offer a plea to a lesser charge than what you were arrested for originally. Pleas are offered to unburden an extremely congested criminal court calendar, as well as to get rid of lesser criminal cases so the District Attorney can rightfully concentrate on the more serious crimes.
If you were arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting and you arrive at the arraignment with no prior arrests, most likely the District Attorney will offer you the option of pleading guilty to a lesser violation and a few days of community service with a fine. You have the option to end the process by accepting the lower charge of a violation, which is not a crime but will appear on your record in the future.
If you accept the plea then you will actually plead guilty to a lesser offense on the record and the court will most likely impose a fine and community service or counseling, depending upon what you and the District Attorney agreed to.
If you don't accept the plea, you will simply plead "not guilty" and continue your criminal court appearances. Your attorney will file various motions and hold hearings to discover what evidence the District Attorney has against you or to get the charges dismissed. An example of such a hearing would be called a "Huntley Hearing". In that hearing your attorney's objective is to get any incriminating statements you made suppressed, meaning they can not be used against you. The point of that hearing is that the police obtained statements from you invlountarily. At the hearing your attorney will cross-examine the police involved in your arrest by asking them detailed questions. If your attorney can prove your statements were coerced or obtained form you in some way involuntarily then you have just eliminiated a criucial piece of evidence against you, making your case of innocence stronger.
As you proceed further through the criminal court process, the plea to a lesser charge may or may not be offered again. Whether or not you accept a plea is something only you and your attorney can decide, based upon your circumstances. Just remember that the plea will always be on your record as opposed to fighting the charges if you're innocent and getting the whole criminal case dismissed, clearing your name.
Your Criminal Court Appearances
If you plead not guilty and are released "ROR" (meaning without bail and on your own recognizance) or on bail, you'll be given the next date to appear before the court. At that time the court will set deadlines for your attorney to complete certain work on your behalf.
The District Attorney has a limited period of time to complete his investigation and state on the record he is ready for trial. The time limits are mandatory to protect your constitutional right to a speedy trial. So you should be prepared to quickly prove your innocence. Being accused of a crime is a stigma, and the reality is that you are actually presumed guilty until you prove your innocence (contrary to the belief that "you are presumed innocent until proven guilty").
If you miss a court appearance, a warrant for your arrest is issued
Your Right To A Speedy Trial
The time for you to get a speedy trial starts running from the date the criminal complaint is filed against you. A trial for a violation must be held within 30 days. A misdemeanor trial must occur within 90 days. A felony trial must take place within six months.
The time periods for a speedy trial are "tolled" (stopped) because of certain motions made by your attorney or certain hearings. They are not tolled if the District Attorney requests adjournments without your consent. They are also not tolled if the District Attorney is not ready for certain appearance dates. This is called "excludable time" for the purposes of determining when a trial must be held.
Making A Record
At each court date, there will be a stenographer typing every word of the proceeding to make a record of it. Your attorney must make sure the record is clear that you do not consent to an adjournment or that the District Attorney was not ready. Being clear is important, because the court is overwhelmed with hundreds of cases a day. Sometimes the judge will not keep a good record or his notes on your file will be unreadable and the judge later can't recall what happened.
To be clear and to protect your rights, state on the record that "defendant does not consent to the adjournment and time should be charged to the People" or state that "The District Attorney is not ready and time should be charged to the People." Make sure the stenographer hears what you say because you may later have to order those records from the stenographer to prove what happened at the hearing. If the stenographer did not hear you or your attorney then you will not have a record that will benefit you. Make sure you both speak loud and clear at each court date to protect your record.
Law Offices of Susan Chana Lask
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