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 Office.
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 assign an attorney 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, 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 the defendant fails to appear for future court appearances, the bail monies posted may be forfeited. The Judge may also opt to put defendant on pre-trial release.
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 the 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 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. These must be filed within 45 days of the defendant's arraignment.
In the case of misdemeanor cases, a jury trial may be 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 including but not limited to, probation, conditional discharge, fines, community service, and driver's license suspension to name a few.
Appealing a Criminal/Quasi-Criminal Court Conviction for Pro Se (Unrepresented) Litigants
(sec. 200.33 Uniform Rules, sec. 460.10 and 460.70(1) CPL)
NOTE: These instructions are primarily for pro se (unrepresented) defendants. If you intend on retaining an attorney for the appeal, you should still file your Notice of Appeal (see # 1 below) to protect your rights. Your attorney can thereafter "perfect" the appeal.
NOTE: If you believe that you are entitled to assigned counsel or if you wish to proceed without an attorney, but wish to request poor person status for payment of the transcripts on the appeal because of indigency, you must make an application to the appellate court (County Court) for poor person status. If granted by the County Court, you must file a copy of the Order of the County Court with the City Court. You should file your Notice of Appeal (see # 1 below) within thirty (30) days of your conviction before making application to the County Court. This will protect your right to continue with the appeal should your application for poor person status be denied.
NOTE: If you are represented by an attorney at the time of the conviction, your attorney should, if so instructed, file the Notice of Appeal. Be sure to advise your attorney at the time of the conviction that you wish to appeal so that the Notice of Appeal may be filed within the proper time limits. If you have assigned counsel at the time of conviction, your assigned counsel will need to make an application to the County Court for him/her to continue as assigned counsel on the appeal.
The defendant to a criminal or quasi-criminal (i.e. traffic infraction) case may appeal to have his/her conviction reviewed by a judge of the County Court.
1. Within thirty (30) days from the date of conviction, file (by mail or in person) two copies (original and copy) of a written Notice of Appeal with the City Court that heard and decided the case. The Notice should contain the caption of the case, the docket number associated with that case, and a statement that you (as the "appellant") appeal the conviction. You must also include your address in the Notice of Appeal.
You must also mail/deliver a copy of the Notice of Appeal to the prosecuting attorney (this would be either the Corporation Counsel's Office OR the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office depending on the case) and file an Affidavit of Service with the Court.
2. If there was a Court Reporter at trial: If a Court Reporter was present in the Courtroom for the trial, you must contact that reporter and request a transcript of the trial. You must advise the Court Reporter that there is an appeal pending of the City Court decision and the reporter is then required to provide you with an estimate of the cost of two copies of the transcripts. If you wish to obtain a copy of the transcript for your records, you must make those arrangements directly with the reporter.
The cost of the preparation of a transcript (both the court's original and any copy for your record) is solely your responsibility so you must request an estimate of the cost of the transcript before ordering the transcript. (Note: this is only an estimate and the actual cost may be less or more than the estimate.) The reporter may require an advance deposit before starting the transcript and will require payment of the balance before releasing the transcript. (Note: If you have been granted poor person status by the County Court, you must file the Order of the County Court with the City Court to avoid the cost of the transcript.)
If there was no Court Reporter at the trial: If there was no court reporter at the trial, the trial will have been taped on audio cassette or recorded on CD. If this is the case, then you will need to make a written request to the City Court for the transcript to be prepared. Your written request must contain the date(s) of the trial/plea/sentence/other proceedings that you wish to have transcribed and the transcription service that you wish to use to prepare the transcript. The Court Clerk will send the audio tape to the transcription service that you select.
It is your responsibility to pay for the cost of the two transcripts: one which will be filed with the Court and one for yourself. You should be aware that the Court will not provide you with a copy of the transcript(s). You must request a cost estimate of the transcript(s) before ordering the transcript(s). (Note: this is only an estimate and the actual cost may be less or more than the estimate.) The transcription service may require an advance deposit before starting the transcript and will require payment of the balance before releasing the transcript. (Note: If you have been granted poor person status by the County Court, you must file the Order of the County Court with the City Court to avoid the cost of the transcript.)
3. After the City Court has received the original transcript(s), the City Court will file a "Return" (that is, the City Court file including the transcript) with the County Court. The City Court will notify the appellant that the "Return" has been filed with the County Court.
4. At this point, the matter is now to be considered by the County Court. If you wish to file additional documentation with the County Court, you should contact the County Court Clerk's office on the procedure for submitting additional documents. Copies of any documents that you provide to the Court should always be provided to the prosecuting attorney.
5. If, after you have started an appeal, you change your mind and wish to discontinue or withdraw the appeal, you must notify the City Court and County Court, in writing, of the discontinuance. You should also notify the prosecuting attorney that you will not be proceeding with the appeal. Of course, you will also be responsible for any costs associated with the appeal including any portion of the transcript that has already been prepared.
6. After the appeal has been decided by the County Court, a copy of that Decision will be mailed to you at the most recent address on file with the County Court.
NOTE: You may visit the Supreme Court Library located in your county for legal references on the filing of an appeal. Court personnel cannot provide legal advice.
Criminal Court: Payment of Fine and Mandatory Surcharge
If you have been assessed a fine and/or mandatory surcharge, you must make payment by the date directed by the Court.
Acceptable Forms of Payment
Acceptable forms of payments are: cash, government money order, certified check, or bank draft payable to the Syracuse City Court, and by applying bail monies to a fine. Credit cards (Discover, Mastercard, and Visa only) are accepted.
Where to Pay
Payments may be made: in person at Syracuse City Court located in the Onondaga County/City of Syracuse Criminal Courts Building or by mail to Syracuse City Court - (either) Criminal or Traffic Division - 505 South State Street - Syracuse, N.Y. 13202. Do NOT send cash through the mail. If paying by credit card (Discover, Mastercard, or Visa only) by mail for a Vehicle and Traffic case, you should request a fine letter from the Clerk's Office by calling 315-617-2770.
Note: Credit Card payments are not accepted via the telephone.
Extension to Pay
If additional time is needed to pay a fine or surcharge, you MUST appear in court at 9:30 a.m. on any day Monday thru Friday to request an extension. You must first report to our Customer Assistance Counter located in room 130, so that your paperwork can be pulled for your appearance in court.
Consequences of Failing to Pay
Failure to pay fine as directed will result in a warrant for your arrest and may result in the suspension of your drivers license. Failure to pay a mandatory surcharge as directed will result in a civil judgement filed against you.
Criminal Court: Bail Issues
Cash bail may be posted at the Syracuse Police Department for pre-arraignment bail or the Onondaga County Justice Center or the Syracuse City Court Customer Assistance Counters.
Additional forms of acceptable bail are:
- Certified Check
- Traveler's Check
- Bank Draft
- Government Money Order
Return of Bail Monies
Bail is released once a plea and sentence has been entered or case is dismissed. However, in certain cases, the Judge may direct the return of the bail prior to the final disposition.
In order to claim cash bail, the person whose name appears on the bail receipt must bring the following documentation to the City Court Clerk's office located in the County of Onondaga/City of Syracuse Criminal Courts Building, Room 130, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Monday - Friday (except Holidays):
- the original bail receipt
- valid photo identification
Bail monies may be returned by mail or by calling (315) 671-2760, and asking to speak to staff assigned to Bail Returns or by mailing in your written request. Upon receipt of your request you will be advised of information you will be required to provide.
If the original bailor has lost the original bail receipt, the bailor must sign a Lost Bail Affirmation Form provided at the Syracuse City Court Customer Assistance Counter.
A 3% bail poundage fee will be withheld in cases where a conviction has been entered.
Applying Bail Monies to a Fine
If you posted bail in your own case:
If the Court has imposed a Fine and/or Mandatory Surcharge in your case and you wish to have the posted bail applied toward the fine, you must provide the Court with:
If by mail:
- a sworn (notarized) statement requesting that the bail monies be applied to the fine
- a current address and telephone number
- the original bail receipt
- valid photo identification
- original bail receipt
- valid photo identification
NOTE: Only the individual who posted the bail as listed on the bail receipt can request that bail monies be applied to a fine.
If you posted bail for another individual:
If you have posted bail for a defendant and wish to apply bail monies to pay the fine for a defendant, you must provide:
If by mail:
- a sworn (notarized) statement indicating that you wish to apply the bail monies to the fine
- the original bail receipt
- valid photo identification
A 3% bail poundage fee will be withheld from the bail monies prior to applying the monies to the fine.