A criminal case in New York State is started by an arrest. The arrest can be the result of an incident or an arrest warrant issued following an investigation. In order to be lawfully arrested, the police must have probable cause to believe that you committed a crime. Probable cause is based upon the totality of the circumstances and the officer’s view of those facts. Any evidence seized as a result of your arrest, or with a search warrant, also requires establishing probable cause. In the absence of any probable caused, or good faith belief by the arresting officer that probable cause existed, your arrest is illegal and any evidence secured at the time of your arrest can be thrown out.
For cases in New York City, you will be presented for arraignment before a judge within approximately 24 hours. In Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk Counties, you may be given a summons by the police to return to court or you could also be held and presented to a judge for setting bail. There are several concerns at an arraignment that are important to keep in mind. You should enter a plea of not guilty unless you have a very compelling reason to resolve the case then and there. Often there are collateral consequences to a guilty plea that may affect employment, parental rights, or the ability to travel, vote or own a firearm. It is important to fully consult with an attorney prior to pleading guilty to anything to make sure that you understand as many of the consequences as possible of that result. Because of this concern, we most often advise our clients to plead not guilty at arraignment to give us time to investigate the case and fully understand the client’s needs.
The arraignment is also important because you can learn important information about the case from the prosecution. For example, in a misdemeanor case, the prosecutor must tell you whether you made any statements to the police, or if you were identified by any civilian (non-law enforcement) witnesses. If the prosecutor does not provide notice of statements or identification at arraignment, or 15 days following arraignment, your statements and any identifications may be excluded from trial. In addition, the prosecutor may argue that you be held on bail. As part of that process, the prosecutor will outline some of the evidence they think that they have against go. So, the arraignment can provide a valuable insight into how the district attorney views the evidence against you.