Description of Criminal Procedures
The following is a general overview of proceedings in a local
criminal court and is not to be used as a legal reference in
any proceeding before any court. It is recommended that if
an individual is charged with a crime that he/she should seek
advice from an attorney.
The City Court can try cases involving misdemeanors or violations
of the State Penal Law or violations of Local Ordinances. The
City Court also hears preliminary matters in felony cases before
they are transferred to the County Court.
Different procedures exist for bringing criminal charges against
an individual. Misdemeanor charges can be filed in the City
Court upon an Accusatory Instrument or Complaint filed by the
local police agencies or upon the filing of a Prosecutor's
Information by the District Attorney or the City Prosecutor's
When an Accusatory Instrument or Prosecutor's Information
is filed with the Court, an Arrest Warrant may be issued for
the defendant or the defendant may be served with a criminal
summons to appear, unless a police agency issued an appearance
ticket for the defendant to appear before the Court on a specific
date and time. If the defendant fails to appear as directed
in the appearance ticket or the summons, the Court may issue
a warrant for the defendant's arrest.
At arraignment, the defendant is formally advised of the charges
pending before the Court and the Court further advises the
defendant of his/her rights (the right to an attorney, the
right to a trial, etc.) and gives the defendant the opportunity
to plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendant cannot afford
an attorney, the Court will direct the defendant to the Public
Defenders Officer or file an Application for Assigned Counsel
with the Assigned Counsel Office, depending on the jurisdiction.
If the Assigned Counsel Office or Public Defender determines
that the defendant meets the financial guidelines, an attorney
is assigned to represent him/her. Otherwise, the defendant
must either retain his/her own attorney or proceed without
an attorney (pro se).
If the defendant is in custody of the Sheriff, the court may
either release the defendant in his/her own recognizance or
set bail. If the defendant or a third party posts bail on behalf
of the defendant and if the defendant fails to appear for future
court appearances, the bail monies posted may be forfeited.
If an individual is charged with a felony and the charge is
filed in the City Court, the defendant is entitled to request
a preliminary hearing. At the hearing, the Court will determine
if there is reasonable cause to believe that the accused committed
a felony. As is true in all hearings, the defendant has the
right to be present and the right to be represented by an attorney
at a preliminary hearing. The defendant may also , if he or
she chooses, present evidence and testimony. If the court determines
that the felony charge is substantiated, the matter is held
over for action of a Grand Jury. If the prosecution does not
present evidence that the defendant committed any offense,
the court must release the defendant from custody. If the hearing
shows that the defendant committed an offense other than the
felony charged, the court may reduce the charge.
If, at arraignment, the defendant pleads guilty to a misdemeanor
or violation, the court will either sentence the defendant
immediately or schedule a sentencing date and order the preparation
of a Pre-Sentence Investigation by the County Probation Department
depending on the seriousness of the crime. The Pre-Sentence
Investigation (P.S.I.) is a report that provides the Court
with background information concerning the defendant including
any prior criminal record.
If, on the other hand, the defendant pleads not guilty, a
pretrial conference and a trial are scheduled. In advance of
the trial, the defendant may, through his attorney or on his
own if acting pro se, make written motions challenging items,
for example the sufficiency of the accusatory instrument or
the validity of seizure of evidence or the voluntariness of
a confession made by the defendant. These motions may result
in the Court holding hearings to determine if the defense contentions
are correct and must be filed within 45 days of the defendant's
In the case of misdemeanor cases, a jury trial is scheduled
unless the defendant specifically waives his/her right to a
jury trial, in writing, and requests a bench trial or non-jury
trial. In a non-jury trial, the Judge hears all of the evidence
and makes the decision if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
In a jury trial, six citizens hear the evidence and the instructions
of the Court and decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
In violation cases, the defendant is not entitled to a jury
trial. If a trial is necessary, all violation cases are heard
by the Judge.
At the trial (jury or non-jury), the prosecutor must establish
the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor
must produce witnesses and may produce physical evidence to
try and prove the case. The defendant is not required to offer
any proof as the defendant is presumed innocent until proven
guilty. However, the defendant is entitled to call witnesses
and offer evidence in his/her defense if he/she chooses.
After all the testimony has been heard and all the evidence
presented and the Jury has been instructed on the applicable
law by the Judge, the Jury retires to the jury room to deliberate.
If the defendant is found not guilty, then he/she is released
(unless he/she has other charges pending). If found guilty,
sentencing may take place immediately or the case may be adjourned
and a sentencing date set.
In New York State, the Court generally has discretion in the
sentence it will impose and is not bound by any agreement between
the prosecutor and the defense attorney. In City Courts, the
maximum sentence the defendant can receive for a Class A Misdemeanor
is one (1) year in the County Jail. The Court has other sentencing
and sanction options available to it including: Probation,
Conditional Discharge, Fines, Community Service, Driver's License
Suspension to name a few.