Arrest and Arraignment

In the typical situation, a criminal case begins with an arrest and an arraignment. In State Court, this usually happens before an indictment is handed down by a Grand Jury, while in Federal Court typically the defendant is arrested post indictment.

This section is intended to provide basic information about the initial arrest processing and arraignment in most cases. Not all cases are the same, and the information provided here may not apply to any particular situation.

The Arrest:

In most New York State Criminal Cases, the suspect or defendant is arrested a short time after the alleged crime took place. A typical example would be where an undercover police officer purchases what he believes to be a controlled substance (i.e. narcotics) and notifies his field team (other officers) of a positive buy and they sweep in an apprehend the alleged seller. Another typical example could be where a husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend have a physical altercation, someone calls the police, and when they arrive, they conclude that a Domestic Violence crime has occurred and they make an arrest.

In other situations, an arrest takes place at a later time because the suspect is not present when the police arrive, or the identity of the suspect has yet to be ascertained. Using the original Domestic Violence example, if the person accused of the offense (e.g. Assault, Menacing, Harassment, etc...) left the location before the police arrived, he may be arrested at a later time. Another example could be the type of scenario that people are familiar with from the popular crime dramas where the police are required to learn the identity of the suspect using investigative techniques such as looking for DNA or fingerprints, reviewing surveillance video, or simply asking people in the community (informants) for information.

Once the arrest is made, that triggers a series of events. The typical arrest processing time within the City of New York is supposed to be between 18 to 24 hours; however, it frequently takes longer.

The first thing that happens with a typical arrest is that the police will take the suspect back to their precinct to begin the arrest processing. This involves fingerprinting and photographing the individual. Then it proceeds to getting pedigree information such as name, address, date of birth from the individual. Once that has concluded, the arresting officer may speak to civilian witnesses, if any, and begin preparing his or her paperwork on the arrest. This can typically take several hours to complete.

Practice Note: These are valuable rights, don't waste them: In some cases, shortly after the arrest, the police will attempt to get a statement from the suspect regarding the subject matter of the arrest. Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a person accused of a crime has the absolute right to remain silent and refuse to answer any questions. Under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, an individual accused of a crime has the absolute right to counsel. These are valuable rights, and I have never seen anyone improve their situation by waiving them. The old phrase, "Anything you say can and WILL be used against you" is an absolute truth.

The Miranda Myth: Everyone who has ever watched a crime drama has heard the Miranda warnings recited by the actor playing the arresting officer. I have had countless clients ask me if the case can be dismissed for the mere failure of the officer to advise the client of these rights. In the vast majority of cases, Miranda is not applicable. For Miranda to be triggered, two things must be present: 1) the police must intend to question the individual about criminal conduct, and 2) the person being questioned must be in custody (in other words, not free to leave). If a police officer starts questioning an individual and that person can reasonable believe he or she can walk away from the encounter, Miranda does not apply. Equally, after a person is in custody, if the police have no intention to ask to the accused any questions that are reasonably calculated to illicit an incriminating response, there is no obligation to advise the accused of Miranda.

Arrest Processing continued....

After the arresting police officer has concluded his or her paperwork, the officer sends the paperwork to the District Attorney's Office for further processing. Each County in the State of New York has an elected official known as the District Attorney. This person hires a staff of Assistant District Attorney's to carry out the day to day operations of his office. The District Attorney is also known as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the County in which his or her office is located, and as such, the District Attorney's Office has the last word on whether an individual who has been arrested will be charged, and if yes, what the charges will be.

The Complaint Room: The various District Attorney's Offices around the State of New York have varied methods of processing arrests, but the common name for the bureau of the District Attorney's Office for processing arrests in the New York City area is the Complaint Room or the Early Case Assessment Bureau (ECAB). Once the arresting police officer finishes his or her paperwork and it is sent electronically to the District Attorney's Office, the paperwork will be reviewed by a member of the District Attorney's staff to determine if the Office will accept the case for prosecution and for what charges. Once it is determined that there will be a prosecution, the staff of the District Attorney's Office will prepare the necessary paperwork for both their office and for the Court. It will typically take anywhere from three to six hours for a case to be dealt with in any of the Complaint Rooms throughout the City of New York depending on the complexity of the case and the volume of arrests for a given day.

The PD Room: Once the District Attorney completes the Court paperwork, the file is then sent to the "PD Room." Once inside this mysterious place, the paperwork for Court is supposed to be united with the criminal history response from Albany in regard to the defendant's fingerprints that where earlier taken at the time of arrest. For whatever reason, this process usually takes an additional three to six hours.

The Clerk's Office: Every Court in City of New York has an Arraignment Clerk. These are the Court staff that make the final preparations to the file before it arrives in the Court room for the arraignment. Once a file has made it all the way to the Clerk's office, the Clerks must assign it a docket number and enter key information into the Court's computer system. After the case has been docketed, the file arrives in the Courtroom and a document called a prisoner movement slip is sent down to the police facility called Central Booking. The prisoner movement slip instructs the police department that the paperwork is ready and that the defendant should be moved to the holding cells adjacent to the Courtroom so that the accused can be interviewed by an attorney and ultimately arraigned.

The Arraignment:

Once the defendant is produced in the Courtroom for arraignment, a Court Officer will call the case into the record by name and docket number, and the defendant will be asked to stand next to his or her attorney. At this point, the District Attorney will advise the Court and the defendant of the charges, often the District Attorney will give a synopsis of the case, and then the Court will be required to determine whether or not to set bail.

The Question of Bail: The sole purpose of bail it to ensure that an individual accused of a crime will return to Court. Bail is not a punishment, and in the event that bail is set, once the case is concluded it will be returned so long as the accused made all of his or her Court appearances and did not flee the jurisdiction. The factors used to determine the appropriate bail are the nature of the offense solely for the purpose of understanding the severity of potential punishment, the defendant's ties to the community, and the defendant's prior criminal history. In a case where the alleged offense is relatively minor, where the accused has strong community ties such as family in the jurisdiction, a good employment history or actual enrollment in school, ownership of property, or any combination of factors will lead a Judge to believe that there is very little or no risk that the defendant will leave and not return to Court, the Judge will often release the accused on his own recognizance meaning without any bail. On the other end of the spectrum, where a defendant is accused of a very serious crime, where he has a limited or no ties to this jurisdiction, where the defendant has a history of failing to return to Court in previous arrests, the Court will often set high bail. In the event that the Court believes that no set of conditions can guarantee the defendant's appearance for future Court dates, the Court can remand the defendant to the custody of the Department of Correction with no bail at all.

Practice Note: Can a Lawyer make a difference in Bail? Where a person is incarcerated while the case is being litigated, they are often at a disadvantage when it comes to plea bargaining. frequently when a defendant has been locked up for several months, they become willing to accept a plea bargain that is more severe than they might have otherwise been able to get if they had been at liberty and patient with the outcome of the case. This is why it is of utmost importance to have a good lawyer at the arraignment. During my career, I have frequently been able to persuade the Court to either set very low bail or release my client on his or her recognizance because I take a lot of pride in making a very compelling bail argument with the facts available to me and being creative in finding valid and concrete reasons for the Court to give my client the benefit of the doubt. I have seen countless situations where other attorneys simply mail it in and recite the same boilerplate arguments again and again frequently resulting in bail where it otherwise may have been avoided.

Practice Note: Will it really take 24 hours? I have seen the arrest to arraignment time in cases vary by many hours and occasionally days. I have had situations where I was able to arraign a client in under 12 hours from the time of arrest, and I have been called into an arraignment by a defendant's family to help after the individual had already spent over 24 hours in custody. As you can see from the above description, a file in a criminal case will pass through a lot of hands from arrest to arraignment. Sometimes mistakes happen and a person will be held much longer than necessary. Sometimes the system is simply backlogged by a high volume of arrests. In either case, an experienced criminal defense attorney will make every effort legally available to him to expedite the process.

Useful Information:

BRONX COUNTY (CRIMINAL DIVISION)

Location
The Bronx Criminal Division is located at 215 East 161st Street, between Sherman & Sheridan Avenues.

Public Transportation Directions
Take the C, D or 4 train to Yankee Stadium/161st Street Station.
Take the BX 6 or BX 13 to East 161st Street & Sheridan Avenue; the BX 1 to East 161st Street & Grand Concourse.

Arraignments [excluding Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs)]
Monday - Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
General Information: (718) 618-2400

Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs),
Monday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except holidays.
General Info: (718) 618-2460

KINGS COUNTY (Brooklyn)

Location
Kings (Brooklyn) Criminal Court is located at 120 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn near Livingston Street & Smith Street.

Public Transportation Directions
Take the N, R or M train to the Lawrence Street Station; the G train to the Hoyt Street & Schermerhorn Street Station; the A, F or C train to the Jay Street Station; the 2, 3, 4 or 5 train to the Borough Hall Station.
Take the B67, B41 or B45 bus line to Livingston Street & Smith Street; the B63 or B65 bus line to Atlantic Avenue & Smith Street.

Arraignments [excluding Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs)]
Monday - Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
General Info: (347) 404-9450

Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs), all other Court Parts, Clerk's Offices
Monday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except holidays.
General Info: (347) 404-9400

MIDTOWN COMMUNITY COURT

Location
The Midtown Community Court is located at 314 West 54th Street.

Public Transportation Directions
Take the N or R train to the 57th Street Station; the A, C , D, 1, 9 train to the Columbus Circle Station.

Clerk's Offices
Monday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except holidays.
General Info: (646) 264-1300

NEW YORK COUNTY (Manhattan)

Location
The New York (Manhattan) Criminal Court has 2 locations approximately three blocks south of Canal Street. The Criminal Court building at 100 Centre Street is one block from Worth Street near Leonard Street & Franklin Street. The Criminal Court building at 346 Broadway is between Worth Street & Leonard Street.

Public Transportation Directions
Take the No. 4 or 5 train to the Brooklyn Bridge Station; the C, N, R, 6 train to Canal Street; the 1 train to Franklin Street.
Take the 1, 6 or 15 bus line.

Arraignments [excluding Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs)]
Monday - Wednesday: 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Thursday - Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
General Info: (646) 386-4545

Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs), all other Court Parts, Clerk's Offices
Monday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except holidays.
General Info: (646) 386-4511

QUEENS COUNTY

Location: The Queens Criminal Court is located at 125-01 Queens Blvd. near Hoover Avenue & 82nd Avenue. The Summons Part is located across the street in the Borough Hall Building.

Public Transportation Directions
Take the E or F train to the Union Turnpike Station. The Q60, Q37, Q74 and Q46 buses all have stops in close proximity to the Courthouse.

Arraignments [excluding Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs)]
Monday - Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.

Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs), all other Court Parts, Clerk's Offices
Monday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except holidays.
General Info: (718) 298-0792

RED HOOK COMMUNITY JUSTICE CENTER

Location
The Red Hook Community Justice Center is located at 88-94 Visitation Place, Brooklyn.

Public Transportation Directions
The B61 bus stops a half block from the Justice Center, you may take the A,C or F subways to Jay St/Borough Hall and transfer to the B61.

Clerk's Offices
Monday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except holidays.
General Info: (718) 923-8200

RICHMOND COUNTY (Staten Island)

Location
The Richmond (Staten Island) Criminal Court Building is located at 26 Central Ave, Staten Island, NY 10301.

Public Transportation Directions
The Court is a few blocks from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, and is accessible by numerous bus lines. There is a Municipal Parking Garage on the same block as the Court House.

Arraignments [excluding Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs)]
Monday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday: 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Desk Appearance Tickets (DATs), all other Court Parts, Clerk's Offices
Monday - Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except holidays.
General Info: (718) 675-8558