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Reentry Resource Center - New York

Serving People from Arrest to Reintegration

Path of a Criminal Case in New York

1. What are the different kinds of offenses I can be arrested for and charged with ?

Violations, misdemeanors, and felonies are the three main types of offenses that can result in imprisonment, payment of fines, or sentences to community service if you plead guilty or are found guilty. They are defined in New York Penal Law Section 10.00

  • A violation, or non-criminal conviction, is the least serious of the three, and can result in a sentence of 15 days in jail or fewer.
  • A misdemeanor, or "petty offense," can result in imprisonment of up to one year.
  • A felony is the most serious because it includes the possibility of being sent to an upstate prison for more than a year.

In New York State, only felonies and misdemeanors are considered criminal convictions.

2. What happens after I am arrested? What are my rights when I am in custody?

  • Once you are in custody, the police must follow certain rules and procedures. These are laid out in the New York Criminal Procedure Law Sections 150 and 160.
  • In New York City, once you are in the custody of the police, you will be handcuffed and searched. The officers are entitled to take personal property, any contraband (anything prohibited by law) or evidence of the crime (including proceeds of the crime and anything that may tie you to the crime). For information on how to get your property back, click here.
  • Remember that anything you say may be used against you in later court proceedings, so it is best to say "I want a lawyer" and nothing else. You have the right to a lawyer, and the court will appoint one when you get to court if you can't afford one.
  • You will be transported to the local police station. Occasionally, once you are at the police station, the officers will decide they made a bad arrest, and do not have enough information to charge you. If this happens, they should release you from the precinct and end the case against you. This is called a "Voided Arrest." Voided arrests should be sealed and should never show up on any criminal background checks.
  • If you are charged with a less serious crime and do not have any outstanding warrants, the officer may give you a Desk Appearance Ticket (referred to as a "DAT"), which releases you from police custody. It also provides the time and location where you must appear in court to learn what charges are being brought against you. This court proceeding is called an arraignment.
  • If the officer decides you should be charged with a more serious crime, you will be held in custody for up to twenty-four hours. During this time, you will be brought to "Central Booking" where you will be fingerprinted and photographed. A "RAP sheet" is created based on your fingerprints. The RAP sheet shows your past convictions.
  • In the case that you later discover an error on your rap sheet, you can learn more about fixing these errors here.
  • Also during this time, the prosecutor meets with the arresting police officer to decide whether or not there is enough evidence against you to go forward with the case. If he or she decides that there is not enough evidence to convict you, you will be released - this is called "Declined Prosecution." Otherwise, you will be brought to the court for arraignment.
  • Before your arraignment you will have a chance to meet with a lawyer. If you can't afford a lawyer, the court will appoint you one and you will meet with him or her before you are brought before the judge. Your lawyer should explain the charges being brought against you, and will probably ask you questions that could help to get you released from jail while your case is open.

3. What happens at arraignments?

  • You will appear with your lawyer before a judge, who will decide either to keep you in jail (this is called remand), order bail, or Release you on your own Recognizance (ROR.)
  • Bail is cash or a bond posted by you as a guarantee that you will return to court.
  • ROR means that the judge trusts that you will return to court even without bail at stake.
  • While there are no guarantees, it is helpful to have family members in the courtroom at your arraignment. If a judge believes that you have strong ties in the community he or she is more likely to Release you on your own Recognizance or to set lower bail.


*This handout is an excerpt from The Consequences of Criminal Charges: A People's Guide, published by The Bronx Defenders. It is for informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for legal advice. It is up to date as of November 2013.

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