Being arrested for New York crimes can be disorienting, particularly if you are accused of something you did not do. Unfortunately, most New Yorkers are not aware of their rights or the procedure that will be used to handle their case. As a result, they make uninformed decisions that can alter the course of their entire life.
New York classifies offenses as felonies (the most serious), misdemeanors (less serious), and infractions (the least serious). Felonies, like a homicide, burglary, or arson charge, can carry a sentence of up to life in prison. Misdemeanors, like prostitution, vandalism, or a petty theft charge, carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail. A violation, such as a traffic citation or parking infraction, usually results in a fine, but can carry a maximum sentence of 15 days in jail.
However, being arrested carries some other, more serious consequences. For example, having an arrest record can prevent you from renting an apartment, obtaining a bank loan, or receiving a job offer. Moreover, if you are convicted of certain offenses, you might have to register as a sex offender, exposing you to further housing and job discrimination.
Here are some steps to take after being arrested for New York crimes to try to minimize the effect of the arrest on your life:
Call a Lawyer
This point cannot be overemphasized. When you are arrested for New York crimes, call a lawyer immediately. Ask for a lawyer when you are questioned. If you are arrested without being questioned first, call a lawyer as soon as law enforcement starts asking questions. If you are booked before you are questioned, use your phone call to call a lawyer. If you do not have a lawyer’s phone number, ask for the phone number for the public defender so you can be represented until you can hire a lawyer.
Calling a lawyer accomplishes a few goals:
- The lawyer can give you advice about the charges you are facing.
- Your lawyer can speak for you so you do not make any mistakes.
- The lawyer can make sure you get the soonest possible arraignment and bail hearing.
- After a bail hearing, a lawyer can get started on your release by contacting your family and a bail agency.
If you do not call a lawyer when you are questioned or arrested, you could make an admission that could place you in more serious legal jeopardy than needed. Keep in mind that law enforcement is trained in interrogation techniques that some might view as unfair. While questioning you, law enforcement can put words in your mouth, pretend to sympathize, and even lie. Falling for these techniques can force you to defend yourself against your own words.
Be Honest With the Court
Once you have been booked and spend a night (or two) in jail, you will be arraigned. This is when you will be officially notified of the New York crimes you have been charged with. You may be asked to enter a plea as well.
After the arraignment, the court will hold a bail hearing. During this bail hearing, the judge might ask you and your lawyer questions. If the judge questions you, consult your lawyer and answer honestly.
For example, if you have been charged with a white collar crime and the judge asks if you have a passport or if you have homes outside New York, answer honestly. If you answer honestly, your lawyer can work with the judge to come to an arrangement for surrendering your passport or an ankle monitor so you do not leave the state. If you lie and the judge finds out, you could be charged with contempt of court and sent to jail.
Understand New York’s Bail Law
New York has acted diligently in reducing the reliance on money bail to ensure criminal defendants appear at trial. Generally speaking, New York’s bail statute limits bail to New York crimes that are violent felonies. For New York crimes that are classified as violations, misdemeanors, and non-violent felonies, the judge is supposed to release the defendant without bail.
So, if you have been charged with a forgery — a non-violent felony in New York — you should be released without bail. Likewise, a charge of simple assault — a misdemeanor in New York — would also result in release without bail, even though the assault might have involved violence.
In cases where the charges include a violent felony, the judge is allowed to release you without bail or require you to post bail for your release. If the judge requires bail, the judge must explain the reason for imposing bail, but New York law does not set any standard for imposing bail other than it must be tailored to secure your court appearances.
New York law has two exceptions to this rule:
- If the judge believes you are a flight risk and explains this finding in writing, the judge can impose non-monetary conditions on your release for non-violent felonies and misdemeanors. For example, the judge can order supervised release or even electronic monitoring.
- In even more extreme cases, if the judge finds that a defendant charged with a violent felony is a flight risk or a danger to the community, the judge can order the defendant remanded without bail. This means that the defendant must remain in custody until trial.
Learn How Bail Works
Bail is used to secure your appearance at trial. The theory works as follows:
- You post bail to the court.
- The court holds your bail until the completion of your case.
- If you make all of your required court appearances, your bail is returned to you regardless of whether you are found guilty, not guilty, or the charges are dropped.
- If you fail to appear in court as required, your bail is forfeited and will not be returned to you. The court will also issue a bench warrant to hold you in jail if you get caught. While a court may choose to release you again, it does not need to do so and can hold you in jail until your trial.
A bail bond is a promise in lieu of cash. In other words, $2,500 bail could be paid by giving the court $2,500 in cash. Alternatively, you could go to a bail bond company and sign a bail agreement. Under the bail agreement, you pay a fee to the bail bond company and the bail bond company issues a written promise to the court that you will appear in court. A typical fee is 10%, meaning that instead of paying $2,500 cash bail, you could pay the bail bond company $250 to post a bail bond.
In New York, judges are allowed to set differing amounts depending on whether the bail is posted as cash or bond. For example, a judge may order $2,500 cash or bond (meaning it is the same amount regardless of how it is paid) or $2,500 cash or $5,000 bond (meaning the bail amount is higher if it is paid with a bond rather than cash). Considering that the average rent in the U.S. is about $1,500 per month, you can expect to pay less than one month’s rent for a bond in most minor cases.
The amount of your bail is supposed to be fair based on your financial condition and the seriousness of the New York crimes you were charged with. Essentially, the more serious the New York crimes, the higher the bail required.
Shop Around for Bail
New York has many bail bondsmen. With so much competition, terms can vary. Moreover, you may find that some bondsmen are easier for you to work with than others. Keep in mind that if you require a bond, you will have to deal with the bondsman for the entire time you are waiting for trial. If you do not like your bondsman, you could be in for a very long and difficult wait for trial.
While some bail bondsmen prefer to work in their local area in case you fail to appear in court, you may be able to find a bondsman in a different county who is willing to write a bond for you. Shopping around in your county, as well as neighboring counties will help you find the best deal.
Follow the Terms of Your Release
If you are released pending trial, observe all your release terms. Failing to abide by these terms could place you in a very bad position including:
- You could have your release revoked and be sent to jail until you get another hearing with a judge.
- The judge could revoke your bail and hold you in jail until trial.
- If you receive more charges, you might be released again, but only if you post emergency bail bonds to cover the bail for the new charges.
Depending on your release conditions, a violation might be difficult. For example, you might be ordered not to be arrested again. As long as you stay out of trouble, this should be an easy condition to meet. Similarly, you might be placed on supervised release and required to check in with a pretrial services company periodically. Again, if you make your required appointments or phone calls, you should be able to meet this condition.
Most importantly, do not jump bail. Bail jumping occurs when you fail to appear in court as required for your case. Bail jumping could result in you being tracked down by a bounty hunter hired by your bail services company and dragged to jail. Unfortunately, bail jumping is one of the conditions that a judge can use to deny bail and holding you in jail. Rather than gaining freedom, bail jumping is likely to result in a long time in jail.
Get a Lawyer and Work on Your Defense
Often, the lawyer who represented you during your arraignment and bail hearing is not your permanent lawyer. For example, if you were booked into jail and were unable to hire a lawyer, you might have had a public defender when the judge determined you needed to post felony bail bonds for the New York crimes you were charged with.
If you do not qualify for a public defender for your defense because you are not indigent. You will need to hire a private lawyer. Similarly, if you do qualify, but you are unhappy with your public defender, you will hire a private lawyer to take over the case.
For the most part, criminal defense lawyers will be willing to take any case as long as you can pay their fees. That is, most criminal defense lawyers do not discriminate against clients accused of certain New York crimes, like sex offenses or homicides, and will take any case.
However, some criminal defense lawyers have more experience and knowledge about certain crimes than other lawyers do. For example, a lawyer may focus the lawyer’s practice on financial crimes and work exclusively for business people. These lawyers might not be willing to take an assault case, but may be willing to take a forgery case.
Once you arrange your release with your bail bond company, you should begin working on your defense with your lawyer. Criminal cases have a number of hearings and your lawyer may also be able to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutors. As a result, you will need to bring your lawyer up to speed as soon as possible.
Moreover, your defense may require evidence, such as phone records, witness statements, and physical evidence. Your defense lawyer will need time to acquire any evidence and have it analyzed.
Carefully Consider Your Options
If you are offered a plea deal, consider it carefully. Criminal trials can be unpredictable. Even if you think that you can persuade a jury that you are not guilty, there is always a risk that you will be found guilty and receive a more severe sentence than you might get under a deal.
If you take a deal, remember that your bail will be exonerated. If you posted cash bail, the cash will be released back to you. If you posted a bond, the bond will be released to the bail bond agent who posted it.
Learn From the Experience
For the most part, people are not accused of New York crimes unless they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It might be that you did not commit a crime. However, if you were associating with people who committed a crime or were doing something that could lead to a misunderstanding about a crime being committed, like doing drugs, you can certainly change your habits to avoid going through all the heartache of an arrest, jail, court hearings, bail bondsman companies, and lawyers.
Getting arrested is a traumatic experience and can have serious consequences. Rather than being dismissive of the risks or treating the situation lightly, you should take it very seriously. Be prepared to call a lawyer and post bail. While you are out on bail, make sure you observe your release terms and do not jump bail. Finally, work with your lawyer on your defense and consider your options carefully. You might not be able to skate free of the New York crimes you were accused of, but you might get an acceptable outcome.