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.
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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 AM to 1:00 AM.
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.
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.
- The New York State Courts: An Introductory Guide. New York State Office of Court Administration. 2000. p. 4. OCLC 68710274.
- The New York State Courts: An Introductory Guide. New York State Office of Court Administration. 2010. p. 2. OCLC 668081412.
- Sullivan, Ronald (27 April 1990). "Judge Orders Arraignments In 24 Hours". The New York Times.
- Sack, Kevin (27 March 1991). "Ruling Forces New York to Release Or Arraign Suspects in 24 Hours". The New York Times.
- New York City Bar Association Special Committee to Encourage Judicial Service (2012). How To Become a Judge. New York City Bar Association. pp. 3–6.
- New York City Criminal Court Act § 22(2)
- New York City Bar Association Council on Judicial Administration (March 2014). Judicial Selection Methods in the State of New York: A Guide to Understanding and Getting Involved in the Selection Process. New York City Bar Association. pp. 9–13.
- McKinley Jr., James C. (19 March 2014). "New York Courts Cut Time Between Arrest and Arraignment". The New York Times.
- Glaberson, William (15 April 2013). "Courts in Slow Motion, Aided by the Defense". The New York Times. p. A1.
- Glaberson, William (16 April 2013). "For 3 Years After Killing, Evidence Fades as a Suspect Sits in Jail". The New York Times. p. A1.
- Glaberson, William (1 May 2013). "Even for Minor Crimes in Bronx, No Guarantee of Getting a Trial". The New York Times. p. A1.
- Glaberson, William (14 April 2013). "Waiting Years for Day in Court". The New York Times. p. A1.
- Buettner, Russ (5 February 2013). "Top Judge Says Bail in New York Isn't Safe or Fair". The New York Times.
- "New York City: Bail Penalizes the Poor: Thousands Accused of Minor Crimes Spend Time in Pretrial Detention". Human Rights Watch. 3 December 2010.
- Fellner, Jamie (2010). The Price of Freedom: Bail and Pretrial Detention of Low Income Nonfelony Defendants in New York City. Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1-56432-718-3.
- McKinley Jr., James C. (8 July 2014). "Study Finds Racial Disparity in Criminal Prosecutions". The New York Times.