FELONY CHARGES IN NEW YORK CITY

By: Don A. Murray, Founding Partner, Shalley and Murray

If you are accused of a felony like robbery, burglary, grand larceny, certain forgeries, felony level assault or felony possession of a weapon, you are in a serious situation indeed.  Most people realize that being charged with a felony is an extremely serious situation.  Therefore, unlike the circumstances when someone is charged with a misdemeanor, it is rare that people Under React to felony charges.

The range of possible felonies is so huge, however, and the circumstances surrounding felonies can be so varied, that it is impossible to draw any particular conclusion about the seriousness of almost any individual felony unless a thorough, calm, assessment of the case is made by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

If you would like to view a brief presentation about the path of a felony case through the New York Criminal Justice System by New York Criminal Defense Lawyer Don Murray, click on the following link: PathFelonyCase.

Assessing Felony Criminal Charges in New York City

There will be certain situations that are extremely grave and that in your heart of hearts you will know are extremely grave.  A person accused of five violent gun point robberies over the course of a week, who was picked out of five lineups, and who has made five confessions to the police is in a grave situation indeed.  Reality is that such a person is not likely going to be walking away from the case with a settlement involving probation or "a program", even if the person has no criminal history and is very young.  This is reality.  Such a person will most likely face the choice of a settlement involving state prison or taking the cases (all five of them) to trial.

On the other hand, there will be other situations that are charged as felonies, but if you have a sense that non-felony settlements are possible, you would be right.  For example, a person arrested for felony drug charges, even very serious felony drug charges, might well be eligible for Drug Treatment Court in some cases that, upon successful completion of a drug rehabilitation program, could result in outright dismissal of all the charges.

And there is everything in between.  Although each County's prosecutor's office has policy guidelines which drive the way felony cases are generally treated, the truth is that there is always the opportunity to try to persuade the prosecutors that for whatever specific reasons (sometimes related to the nature of the case, sometimes related to the accused's background) a different, creative solution to the case should be forged.  This requires that the attorney handling the case have a sufficient understanding of the case and a sufficient understanding of the accused.  It also requires that the attorney handling the case have a good  relationship with the prosecutor's office.  Knowing who to talk to and being familiar with his attitudes goes a long way toward coming to a mutually agreeable solution to felony charges in New York City.

Trial is an Option Of Course

If agreement is not sought or cannot be reached, then trial is necessary.  Trials of felony cases are extremely high stakes.  The sentencing ranges for felonies, especially violent felonies give judges discretion to sentence people who are convicted, in many cases, to life crushing sentences.  For example, a person who has never been convicted of any crime before who is convicted of robbery in the first degree (armed robbery) faces a minimum of five years, but a maximum of 25 years.  That means a person with no criminal history could receive 25 years in prison.  Therefore, the decision to pursue a felony criminal case to trial is not one to be made lightly before a thorough review with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

The Overall Assessment

The analysis of a particular person's situation will involve a review of important issues like:

Facts of the case

This is important obviously because it may well be that the accused is in fact not guilty of anything and has no interest in "resolving" the case in any way other than a trial.  An assessment of the facts of the case is important to assess the likelihood of success at a trial.  

Further, and a bit of a bitter pill to swallow is that the facts of the case must be considered, regardless of the truth being on the side of the accused, for their likelihood to generate a favorable result at a trial.  It must be remembered that the real evaluation that must be made by the trial lawyer is not exactly whether the facts are on his or her side.  The real evaluation must be whether the admissible evidence is likely to lead to a jury making a "not guilty" finding.  Sometimes, the truth doesn't sound like the truth to jurors, or jurors can be persuaded by clever liars or sympathetic but lying or mistaken witnesses.  Obviously it is wonderful as a trial lawyer to have the truth on your side, but the truth is not always the most believable or likely to be believed evidence.  The truth is not guaranteed to win out in the end.  This is not some sort of horrific defect in our Criminal Justice System.  The truth is not guaranteed to win out in the end in any fact finding system.


The age of the accused

This is important to assess eligibility for "Youthful Offender" Status which can eliminate the necessity to impose mandatory prison sentences and leave the accused without a criminal record.


Whether the felony charged is violent or non-violent

This is important because violent offenses are treated much more harshly, not only in the sentencing guidelines but also in terms of negotiations.


Whether the felony charged is directly or indirectly a result of drug addiction

This is important because it is possible that some non-violent cases may be resolved extremely favorably


Whether the accused is a United States Citizen

This is important because a proposed resolution to a felony charge that seems great (no jail resolution - probation, for example) might be a disaster for a non-citizen because it would cause him to be removed from the United States or denied entrance.

whether the accused has a criminal history

While not usually directly relevant to the facts of a case, criminal history can have a significant impact on the evaluation of a case for a couple of different reasons.  

First, a person with a significant criminal history, such as a prior felony conviction within the last ten years, will face substantially increased risk in terms of sentencing if convicted - and therefore impose a substantial discouragement to seeking a trial.  Mandatory minimums of as much as 10 years can be triggered by prior criminal history.  Therefore, the incentive to consider accepting an offer to settle for 2 years, for example, can be substantial.  The risks of pursuing the matter to trial can become life crushing.

Second, a person with a significant criminal history is likely to face some tough choices if his testimony would be needed at trial.  Often the accused is the only possible favorable factual witness for the defense.  But the law allows for witnesses to be cross examined regarding their prior criminal history in most cases, at least to some degree.  The thinking is that generally jurors tend to be displeased with witnesses who have prior criminal convictions.

Therefore, if the only favorable testimony likely to be admissible at the trial is going to have to come from a witness who will be exposed for having prior criminal convictions, then this is something that will weigh against the likelihood of success at trial - even if the witness is in fact telling the truth.  This is an incredibly frustrating bit of reality for those who are accused of crimes to wrap their minds around.

Conclusion


These are just a few of the things that must be considered in order to give a realistic assessment of the situation of a person who faces felony charges in New York City.  These factors are best analyzed by an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has familiarity with the policies and procedures of the specific courthouse where the case will be heard.

A realistic assessment cannot be done until all of these things and more are considered calmly and coolly.  In the end, it may well be that realistic, non jail settlements could be available, or it could be that trial would be a sensible option.  All is not necessarily lost simply because the charges are felonies.  You just need help to evaluate the situation.

If you would like to have your situation evaluated for free by an experienced criminal defense lawyer for a felony charge in New York City (including Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Bronx), Westchester County, Putnam County, or Nassau County, call Shalley and Murray at 718-268-2171.