Arraignments (first appearance) in New York City Criminal Court
By Don Murray, Partner at Shalley and Murray
What is Arraignment?
Someone you know has just been arrested in New York City. You want to know what happens next.
The next step in the criminal process in New York City is the Arraignment. The arraignment is the first appearance before a judge and marks the first step (in Court) for a criminal case.
At the arraignment a judge will decide whether to release a defendant simply on his promise to come back to court to answer the charges OR a judge will set an amount of bail that will have to be posted before the defendant could be released.
The arraignment is NOT a trial. The arraignment is NOT a hearing. The arraignment is NOT a fact-finding mission. There will be NO WITNESSES. There will be NO EVIDENCE taken. This is often extremely frustrating, especially for those who believe their loved ones were arrested wrongly. The temptation is to want to shout from the rooftops proclaiming the innocence of the person arrested, and the expectation is that the judge will be in a position to listen to evidence and rule upon the merits of the case. Unfortunately, for a variety of practical and legal reasons, the arraignment is not generally the appropriate forum for a formal fact-finding. The arraignment has a much more limited purpose. Arraignment is really mostly about the issue of bail.
Should I hire an attorney for the Arraignment?
Yes, if you have the opportunity. Your first step ought to be to hire an attorney for the arraignment. Some people have a "wait and see what happens" approach to hiring an attorney. The arraignment is a critical appearance, however.
The Queens County District Attorney has instituted a policy of interrogating and videotaping statements from all those arrested for felonies. Having an attorney can keep this from happening.
Depending on how the arraignment goes, the defendant could be forced to remain in jail until the case is resolved OR the defendant may be released while the case proceeds. If you have a lawyer you can trust, why wouldn't you want that lawyer involved in the first and one of the most important decisions of the case?
Don't worry about the time of day or night. Most criminal defense attorneys are equipped to deal with emergency calls.
Remember that the arraignment won't happen for about 24 hours after the person is arrested. Therefore, that should leave plenty of time to get in contact with an attorney.
If you don't already have an attorney, call or text us now to help. We can be reached by phone or text at 718-268-2171.
When will the Arraignment Take Place?
As a general rule of thumb in New York City, it takes about 24 hours from the time of arrest to the arraignment. Very rarely people arrested in the early morning will come through arraignments late that night. Usually, however, it is pretty close to 24 hours. The actual times for arraignment will vary depending on the nature of the crime, the complexity of the case, and the day of the week, as well as by County. Queens has lately been shaving arrest to arraignment times down to 19 hours, leading the rest of the Counties of New York City. For more information about arraignments visit our New York City Arraignments website.
Where will the Arraignment Take Place?
Arraignments are held in the various criminal court buildings for each county. In Manhattan, in addition to the main 100 Centre Street Criminal Court building, some arraignments are heard at Midtown Community Court at 314 W 54th Street.
What can I expect at Arraignments?
Arraignments are remarkable. To the untrained eye, it probably seems (on a busy day) like a boiling mass of rapid fire shouting and confusion. Understand however, that most of the people involved, judges, court officers, police, lawyers, clerks, etc. have done thousands of arraignments. Everyone involved is keenly aware of what is happening and why.
What can I do for my friend or loved one who was arrested at the Arraignment?
If you don't have time to get a criminal lawyer to manage the arraignment process for you, you may find yourself having to do what you can yourself. Here are some tips for what you can do to help out.
Outside the arraignment courtroom you will find a list of names. You will know that your loved one is about to come through when you find his name on the list. If you don't see his name on the list, then he probably isn't ready yet.
If you see his name on the list, write down the Docket Number you will find on the same line as his name. The Docket Number is the number that looks something like this: 2013QN000000. That number may come in handy.
After you write down the docket number, go into the courtroom and get the attention of one of the court officers. The Court Officers are the ones wearing Blue shirts like the police, but they have patches on their arms identifying them as court officers. Be quiet and polite when you try to get their attention. They may ask you to wait or sit down for a moment if they are unable to help you immediately. Do as they ask of you. Court Officers can be extremely helpful to you.
Once you have the attention of a court officer, let him know that you are here for someone and would like to speak to the public defender who will be representing him for the arraignment. If a private criminal defense lawyer does not appear for someone, one of the public defenders working the arraignment courtroom will handle the arraignment. Make sure the name is ON THE LIST before you approach the Court Officer. Otherwise you will likely be wasting his and your time. Most Court Officers will notify the attorneys in the back that family/friends are here for a particular defendant.
Once informed that family members or friends are in the audience, the public defender may ask to speak to you outside the courtroom before the arraignment.
The lawyer will likely introduce himself, and will want to know the relationship between the defendant and those who have appeared. Sometimes, the lawyer may ask for information related directly to the case. Other times, the lawyer may simply verify some personal information about the defendant.
Remember to ask the public defender for a business card so that when you do contact a private lawyer, the private lawyer will know who handled the arraignment.
Please understand that the lawyer is preparing to do an arraignment, NOT A TRIAL. The goal of an arraignment is usually to try to obtain the release of the defendant or an amount of bail that friends and family could make. In some cases, the lawyer will believe that release is very likely and that a lengthy discussion is not needed. In other cases, the lawyer may believe that release is extremely Unlikely and that a lengthy discussion is not needed.
Should I bring bail money to Arraignments?
Yes, if you can. You never know what may happen.
In the past, the Court Clerks in arraignment have been willing to accept bail posted IMMEDIATELY (not ten minutes later) after the arraignment.
The advantage to posting bail immediately in court is that you can get your loved one out almost immediately. If you don't have it with you in Court at the moment of the arraignment, it may cost your loved one a good few hours more in jail.
If you are unable to post the cash bail set by the judge, then you should consider the possibility of posting a bail bond. A licensed New York bail bondsman can be hired to post the amount of bond for you. The bail bondsman will charge you a fee for this service, but it will be considerably less than the full amount set by the judge. One affordable, licensed New York Bail Bond Agency is Empire Bail Bonds. They can be reached by calling 718-263-1000.
The Queens District Attorney Plea Policy
During a Queens arraignment, you may hear discussion about "the waiver" or the "plea policy". You will see the Prosecutor hand the defense attorney a document and in many cases you will see the defendant sign this document. On the rare occasion when a defendant does not sign "the waiver" you will notice that it creates a fuss.
In order to understand what this "waiver" is and why it is important, you have to understand a little about the Grand Jury and how it works. Click here to read about the Grand Jury.
In Queens, defendants who do not agree to give the District Attorney's Office about thirty days (as opposed to six days as the law normally requires) to get an indictment against them are closed out of the plea bargaining process by the District Attorney's Office.
Signing the waiver is NOT an admission of guilt. Signing the waiver does NOT mean the defendant has to take a plea. If, after plea bargaining, the defendant is not satisfied with the offer, the defendant has the right to do everything any other defendant could have done. The defendant can still testify in the Grand Jury and can still take the case to trial.
The plea policy has not always been in existence. The District Attorney in Queens started the plea policy on the theory that defendants who will eventually take pleas ought to be encouraged to take them earlier in the case.
From an unrealistic point of view the choice should be simple. If you are guilty, sign and deal. If you are not guilty don't sign and go to trial. Case closed. Nice and neat.
If only reality were that neat. The decision would be that simple if the truth always won out in the end, jurors always did the right thing, judges always did the right thing, and lawyers always did the right thing.
The fear of going to jail for a long time on the whim of a misguided jury, however, is just one compelling reason at least to see what the Prosecutor may offer on a particular case.
From an attorney's point of view it is next to impossible to advise a client on the strength of his case based on an initial interview right before arraignment. Without the benefit of investigations and what little discovery might be available, an attorney is flying blind.
Further, many attorneys believe that the policy unfairly forces a critical decision about a case at a point in the process when the defendant is least in a position to make such a decision. Most defendants have been up without rest for 24 hours or more waiting for arraignment and are then required to make a major decision about their case.
The decision to sign or not to sign "the waiver" at arraignments, like the decision whether or not to testify in the Grand Jury, is one that must be made after discussion with an attorney. Statistically, it seems that most defendants do sign the waiver. But each case should be independently evaluated with an experienced criminal defense attorney.