Interviewer: If someone has been arrested, what is the typical sequence of events they’re going to go through in their case? What are the names of the events or court appearances and how long does it take and what happens?
The First Court Appearance and Entering a Plea
Eric: Every case, regardless of whether it’s a vehicle or traffic law offense or vehicular assault or any vehicle crime, as well as any penal law offense which is the drug case, the assault cases, the rape cases, and the murder cases, they all start the same way.
You Must Have Legal Representation during the First Court Appearance
The individual goes in front of a judge and hopefully by then, the individual has called a lawyer for representation. There should always be a lawyer who’s assigned to the courtroom if the person hasn’t retained a lawyer yet or a family hasn’t gotten a lawyer.
At that first appearance is where the case begins with the accused; the government refers them as the defendant. We don’t refer to our clients as a defendant; we’re people and we have names. The accused person will enter a plea of not guilty. That’s what starts the case.
After that plea of not guilty, the prosecution, which is the government side, enters the picture. The defense attorney and the judge will look at the individual who’s accused of the act and determine whether or not the prosecution wants the person to remain in jail.
Bail May Be Set during the First Court Appearance
The prosecutor may say that they don’t want the individual released because he’s a flight risk. They may ask to have high bail set on somebody. The judge can look at the person’s criminal history to see whether there is any prior contact with the law.
Your Attorney Will Present Arguments to the Judge for Your Release
Of course, it’s my job as a defense attorney to show the judge that the individual regardless of what he’s accused of is not a flight risk. That person is going to come back to court each and every time to answer these charges and to defend himself.
The Case Is Adjourned to a District or Criminal Court
At that stage, the judge will determine whether or not there’s any money necessary to be put up for bail or whether that person can be released on his own recognizance. The case gets adjourned to a criminal court part or other court, depending on the offense.
If it’s a misdemeanour, it goes into the misdemeanour court in Long Island called the district court. In the City of New York, it is called the criminal courts. If it’s a felony, the case will go to a conference. Usually the first time we will stay in the misdemeanour part until it’s sent in front of a grand jury and then it will ultimately go, if it’s an indictment, in Nassau or Suffolk County, it goes to the county court. In the City of New York, it goes into what’s called the Supreme Court to be heard.
Why Does Your Attorney Want to Have You Released from Jail? Your Attorney Needs Unlimited Access to You While Building the Defense
Interviewer: Do you try to make sure the client does not have a very high bail so they can be released from jail as soon as possible?
Eric: Correct. It’s best usually for me as a defense attorney to have access to my client. I don’t want them in jail because if he’s in jail I have to go to the jail when it’s only permitted for me to go during certain days and times. It is much easier to have my client come to my office and sit down seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
We meet with clients on weekends, we meet with them at night and early in the morning, whatever is best. We can sit down and really prepare a proper defense. When the person’s in jail, you don’t have the access to the client. All the phone calls that are made from the jail are recorded. You can’t talk to your client on the telephone from the jail either.
By Eric Sachs