What's Next for Me After Getting this Desk Appearance Ticket for Petit Larceny?

By Don A. Murray, Partner at Shalley and Murray

So you have this piece of paper telling you to go to Court.  It probably says that your appearance is scheduled for about a month after the arrest.  Now what?

Here is a brief and simplified description of the process.

Arraignment or First Appearance

The date of your first appearance is simply for your arraignment.  Arraignment is a fancy legal term for first appearance in Court.  The arraignment is actually an important, but simple and quick process.  At the arraignment, you will get a copy of the actual formal charges that are being brought by the prosecutor's office against you.  You should realized that your DAT slip is simply a piece of paper prepared by the Police Department that indicates what the police are RECOMMENDING you be charged with.  The police don't make the prosecutorial decision about how to prosecute you.  That decision is made by the prosecutors who are the actual lawyers and the ones charged with the job of actually prosecuting you.  Therefore, although the police are obviously pretty experienced at recommending charges against the people they arrest, the prosecutors' offices occasionally make different choices.  Sometimes, they choose to charge something less serious than what the police recommend.  Sometimes, they choose to charge something MORE serious than what the police recommend.  Obviously, more often than not, they charge exactly what the police recommend.  But at the arraignment, you will get final confirmation of the charges when you get a copy of the Criminal Court Complaint.  

After getting a copy of the Criminal Court Complaint, the other significant event at the arraignment is the decision about bail.  If you got a DAT, and you showed up with your lawyer, the issue of bail is virtually non-existent.  The reason for this is that the issue of bail is really about the Judge answering the following question: Do you think that the accused is likely to return to Court if we ask her to?  If the Judge answers the question "Yes" the Judge is supposed to release the accused without bail.  Now if you think about your appearance at the DAT arraignment, you will understand why the issue of bail is moot.  By appearing when requested on your DAT, you have already answered the question about your ability to appear when requested.  Therefore, bail is not a realistic issue for most petit larceny DAT cases.

Negotiations and Motion Practice

If there is no settlement reached on this first appearance, the case will be adjourned (put off) to another date, in most cases to give your attorney a chance to continue settlement discussions, or to give your attorney a chance to prepare and file legal motions to help move your case along toward trial.

Pretrial Hearings and Trial

Once motion practice is complete, and assuming that negotiations do not succeed, the case will likely be set down for pretrial hearings.  Pretrial hearings are small fact finding missions that will relate to certain specific types of evidence that the Government may have in your case.  Classically these types of evidence are of three varieties: 1) physical evidence, like personal property; 2) evidence of statements that the Government claims you made; or 3) identification evidence.  In each of these general categories, the Government is frequently required to present evidence to show that the manner in which the police obtained the evidence in question met certain Constitutional standards.  If the Judge who presides over the hearing determines that the Government obtained evidence by violating these Constitutional standards, the Judge will rule that the Government isn't allowed to use the evidence so obtained at your trial.  (Reality check - this happens very, very, very rarely.)

Once pretrial hearings are completed, the case is scheduled for a trial.  In Manhattan and Brooklyn, they are fond of scheduling cases for pretrial hearings, immediately followed by trial.  This is a pernicious practice designed to "speed things along" but also has the effect of making trials essentially a discovery device, since in New York State, criminal defendants are entitled to nothing of substance in the way of discovery prior to pretrial hearings.  Therefore, going "hearing into trial" essentially means finding out all kinds of critical information about the case for the first time at trial.  This is not what most people expect, who are taught by the media that "accused criminals have all the rights".

Scope of the Process

The scope of all of this, despite the high hopes of the system in setting cases down for "hearing into trial" that the time between first appearance and trial, if a case goes that far, is quite considerable, measured in months.  Therefore, you need not be concerned about your first appearance being a date when witnesses are going to be called, jurors are going to be sworn, and such.  You are about as far away from experiences like that on your first appearances as we are from Jupiter right now.

Also, if you are concerned about going to trial, you should know that statistically, the odds are very much against you going to trial on your petit larceny case.  You can't even imagine how much the odds are against you.  In 2014, there were one million, one hundred thousand cases handled by the New York Criminal Courts.  Can you guess how many of those one million, one hundred thousand cases resulted in a jury trial?  The answer is...about 175.  Out of more than a million.  So if you are fretting that circumstances are somehow going to spin out of control to take you down a path to a trial, the prospect of which, fills you with dread, then statistics suggest you can stop fretting.


Don Murray, founding partner of Shalley and Murray and 27 year New York City Criminal Defense lawyer, pictured above, has handled countless petit larceny (shoplifting) cases over his career.  He can help you too.  Call or text us now for your free consultation.

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