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.
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 Office or make a determination that the defendant meets the financial guidelines and 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 on 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 arraignment.
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.