New York City Criminal Court
|New York State Unified Court System|
The Criminal Court of the City of New York handles misdemeanors (generally, crimes punishable by fine or imprisonment of up to one year) and lesser offenses, and also conducts arraignments (initial court appearances following arrest) and preliminary hearings in felony cases (generally, more serious offenses punishable by imprisonment of more than one year), in the five boroughs of New York City.
There are several specialized parts of the Criminal Court which handle specific subject areas.
Defendants arraigned on felony or misdemeanor complaints are initially arraigned in the arraignment part of the Criminal Court.
The all-purpose or "AP" parts are the motion parts of the Criminal Court. Plea bargain negotiations take place in these courtrooms prior to the case being in a trial-ready posture, and depending upon caseloads the judges in the AP Parts may conduct pre-trial hearings, felony hearings, and bench trials.
Felony waiver parts
Criminal Court has preliminary jurisdiction over felony cases filed in New York City, and retains jurisdiction of the felony cases until a grand jury hears the case and indicts the defendant. Defendants charged with felonies are arraigned in the Criminal Court arraignment parts and cases are then usually sent to a felony waiver part to await grand jury action. Felony waiver parts are staffed by Criminal Court judges designated as Acting Supreme Court Justices. Felony waiver parts also hear motions, bail applications, and extradition matters.
Trial Parts in the Criminal Court handle most of the trials, although some trials are conducted in the AP parts.
Problem-solving courts include:
- adolescent diversion parts
- community courts
- domestic violence courts
- drug treatment courts
- human trafficking courts
- integrated domestic violence courts
- mental health courts
- sex offender courts
- veterans courts
- youthful offender domestic violence courts
The Midtown Community Court, part of the Criminal Court, is a community court which arraigns defendants who are arrested in the Times Square, Hell's Kitchen, and Chelsea neighborhoods and charged with any non-felony offense.
Youth Court is held at the Red Hook Community Justice Center. The Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn opened in 2000 as the nation's first multi-jurisdictional community court. Built to alleviate the chronic lack of access to justice services in the isolated area of Red Hook, Brooklyn, the court combines family, civil, housing, and minor criminal court functions and takes a community development approach to justice through such programs as the Youth Court, where teenagers are trained and act as mediators to help their peers resolve disputes. The Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn opened in 2000 as the nation's first multi-jurisdictional community court, and was built to alleviate the chronic lack of access to justice services in the isolated Red Hook area.
Criminal Court operates domestic violence or "DV" courts within every county. Domestic violence courts are forums that focus on crimes related to domestic violence and abuse and improving the administration of justice surrounding these types of crimes. The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens operates DV Complexes, which include an All-Purpose Part and Trial Parts dedicated to adjudicating these types of crimes, while in Richmond all DV cases are heard in the regular AP Part.
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Most people who are arrested and prosecuted in New York City will appear before a Criminal Court judge for arraignment. They may share a holding cell behind the courtroom. In New York state, the time from arrest to arraignment in Criminal Court must be within 24 hours.
Every person who is arrested is entitled to be read the accusations against him or her formally. However, this is a rare event—tradition in New York City is that a copy of the charges be provided at arraignment to the defense lawyer, who is expected to waive the formal public reading. Generally, the defense enters a plea of not guilty.
Given the volume of arrests in New York City, Criminal Court arraignments are held day and night, seven days a week, 365 days a year, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
At the arraignment, the primary issue is whether or not the Court will decide that bail is required. If the Court does not set bail, the accused is released on his own recognizance. If the judge decides that the accused cannot be trusted to return to court without some encouragement, the judge may set bail.
The decisions to set bail and the amount of bail to set are discretionary, and depend on three factors: 1) prior criminal history, 2) the seriousness of the felony, and 3) community ties of the accused.
New York City Criminal Court is also responsible for handling felony accusations beyond the arraignment. In New York, the Government is required to seek and obtain an indictment in order to prosecute a felony case to its conclusion at a trial. Issued by a Grand Jury, an indictment is permission for the Government to prosecute an individual for a felony (or sometimes a misdemeanor).
While the burden on the Government required to obtain the Grand Jury indictment is extremely low, the Grand Jury process is time-consuming. It has fallen to New York City Criminal Court, then, to be responsible for unindicted felony cases. Such cases are adjourned from arraignments to various Criminal Court courtrooms to monitor their progress toward indictment.
Once an indictment is issued, the case is transferred to New York State Supreme Court, where it will be tried.
Next, the prosecutor provides defense counsel with certain "notices" that are required by law. Although these notices vary depending on the type of case and facts presented, they generally relate to notifying the defense about certain types of evidence in the Government's possession. For example, one type of notice frequently presented at arraignment notifies the defense that the Government has a statement from the defendant. At the arraignment, the notices are rattled off in quick succession and identified by Criminal Procedure Law references. Once all the notices are handed to the defense, the judge usually asks to hear the Government's position on bail. Usually, the prosecutor will request bail and briefly outline the basis for the request. The defense lawyer is then afforded an opportunity to speak, and will usually seek the defendant's release from custody. Finally, after hearing from both sides, the judge decides on bail.
After arraignment, the misdemeanors, violations and other various low-level infractions are tracked to "All Purpose Parts", or courtrooms where the cases will be negotiated, resolved, or readied for trial. Once certain procedural requirements are met, the defense will frequently request the opportunity to file pretrial motions, through which they will request certain pretrial hearings, if required. Typically, there are three classic types of pretrial hearings, all of which relate to testing the admissibility of different kinds of evidence which the Government intends to use at trial. Specifically, the three classic pretrial hearings challenge the admissibility of: 1) identification evidence (like a lineup); 2) confessions; and 3) physical evidence, obtained either from the accused, or from a place where the accused has an expectation of privacy. Once pretrial hearings are completed, the case is considered ready for trial and will usually be transferred to a courtroom that specializes in handling trials.
In New York City, only those individuals charged with a serious crime, defined as one where the defendant faces more than six months in jail, are entitled to a jury trial; those defendants facing six months incarceration or less are entitled to a bench trial before a judge.
New York City Criminal Court judges are appointed by the Mayor of New York City to 10-year terms from a list of candidates submitted by the Mayor's Advisory Committee on the Judiciary. The Mayor's Advisory Committee is composed of up to nineteen members, all of whom are volunteers and are appointed with the Mayor's approval: the Mayor selects nine members; the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals nominates four members; the Presiding Justices of the Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court for the First and Second Judicial Departments each nominate two members; and deans of the law schools within New York City, on an annual rotating basis, each nominate one member. In addition, the Committee on the Judiciary of the Association of the New York City Bar Association, in conjunction with the county bar association in the relevant county, investigates and evaluates the qualifications of all candidates for judicial office in New York City.
Once a judge is appointed, they can be transferred from one court to another by the Office of Court Administration, and after two years' service in the lower courts, they may be designated by the Chief Administrator of the Courts upon consultation and agreement with the presiding justice of the appropriate Appellate Division as an Acting Supreme Court Justice with the same jurisdiction as a Supreme Court Justice.
Analysis and criticism
The Court of Appeals ruled in 1991 that most people arrested must be released if they are not arraigned within 24 hours. In 2013, for the first time since 2001, the average time it took to arraign defendants fell below 24 hours in all five boroughs.
But there have been accusations of systematic trial delays, especially with regards to the New York City stop-and-frisk program. The Bronx criminal courts were responsible for more than half of the cases in New York City's criminal courts that were over two years old, and for two-thirds of the defendants waiting for their trials in jail for more than five years. Out of more than 11,000 misdemeanor cases pending in 2012 in the Bronx, there were 300 misdemeanor trials.
New York City's use of remand (pre-trial detention) has also been criticized. The New York City Criminal Justice Agency has stated that only 44 percent of defendants offered bail are released before their case concludes. A report by Human Rights Watch found that among defendants arrested in New York City in 2008 on nonfelony charges who had bail set at $1,000 or less, 87 percent were jailed because they were unable to post the bail amount at their arraignment, and that 39 percent of the city's jail population consists of pre-trial detainees who are in jail because they have not posted bail. A report by the Vera Institute of Justice concluded that, in Manhattan, black and Latino defendants were more likely to be held in jail before trial and more likely to be offered plea bargains that include a prison sentence than whites and Asians charged with the same crimes.
In June 2014 it was reported that Brooklyn's change to a more wealthier, more Caucasian population has had a negative effect for defendants in the criminal cases of Brooklyn, which is largely composed of minorities, and reductions in awards in civil cases. It was called the Williamsburg effect because of that neighborhood's getrification. Brooklyn defense lawyer Julie Clark said that these new jurors are "much more trusting of police." Another lawyer, Arthur Aidala said:
"Now, the grand juries have more law-and-order types in there.... People who can afford to live in Brooklyn now don't have the experience of police officers throwing them against cars and searching them. A person who just moves here from Wisconsin or Wyoming, they can't relate to [that]. It doesn't sound credible to them."
Brooklyn district attorney Kenneth P. Thompson has argued that most people don't understand how summons courts operate, that the omission of race and ethnicity information on the summons form should be remedied, that indigent access to public defenders in summons courts raises serious due process concerns, and that the city needs to overhaul its summons system.
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The Midtown Community Court, part of the Criminal Court of the City of New York, arraigns defendants who are arrested in Times Square, Clinton and Chelsea areas of the city and charged with any non-felony offense.
- Annual Report 2013, p. 53.
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