Facing a criminal charge can be a frightening proposition. Fines, imprisonment, probation, a criminal record that can last a lifetime — any or all of these may loom ahead If you’re convicted. Should you trust a public defender (who generally will try to get a plea bargain to a lesser offense or sentence) or challenge the allegation by securing the legal services of an experienced criminal defense attorney who will fight aggressively for your rights and freedom?
If you live in Suffolk County, New York, or in surrounding areas including Commack and Central Islip, contact me at the Law Offices of Douglas M. Reda. I have been defending clients for four decades, and I will provide personalized attention to your case with the goal of developing a defense strategy aimed at obtaining the best possible outcome.
If you are facing criminal charges, reach out to me today to schedule a consultation to discuss your case and begin building your defense.
New York recognizes three types of criminal cases: violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. A violation is the least serious and can include instances of trespassing, disorderly conduct, and unlawful possession of marijuana. The maximum penalty is 15 days in jail, but a violation does not go on your record as a crime.
A misdemeanor is the next step above a violation. New York classifies misdemeanors into three groups: Class A, Class B, and Unclassified. The maximum jail time for a misdemeanor is listed as “one year” in the criminal statutes, but in 2019 the state legislature reduced the maximum to 364 days. This was done to prevent the deportation of immigrants who spend one year or more in jail.
Class A Misdemeanors include theft of no more than $1,000 in value, hacking a computer or computer network, third-degree assault, forcibly touching someone sexually, and writing graffiti without the property owner’s permission. The maximum sentence is one year (see above) and/or a $1,000 fine, or double the amount gained from the crime.
Class B Misdemeanors include stalking that strikes fear in the victim, intentional and repeated harassment, public lewdness, setting off fireworks without a permit, and first-degree loitering for the purpose of using drugs. Penalties can be up to three months of incarceration and/or a $500 fine or double the amount of the gain.
Unclassified Misdemeanors generally include driving violations. Driving with a suspended license carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500. Reckless driving is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $500 to $1,000. Driving while intoxicated can land you in jail for up to 364 days and/or a fine of $500 to $1,000.
It is also possible to receive probation in lieu of jail time: two to three years of probation for a Class A offense (except Class A sexual assault, which is six years), and one year for Unclassified or Class B offenses.
New York classifies felonies from Class E (the least serious) to Class A-I (the most serious). Each classification carries sentencing minimums and maximums, but judges can use their discretion in modifying the guidelines when factoring in the convicted person’s criminal history, the nature of the crime, and the surrounding circumstances. (Note: Examples used below are not inclusive of all crimes covered by each category.)
Class A-I: Murder, arson, treason; punishable by 15 years to life in prison.
Class A-II: Possession of four ounces of an illegal narcotic, predatory sexual assault; punishable by three years to life in prison.
Class B: First-degree robbery, rape, drug trafficking; punishable by one to 25 years in prison.
Class C: Assault, fraud, robbery; punishable by one to 15 years in prison.
Class D: Different types of fraud, theft, robbery; punishable by one to seven years in prison.
Class E: Abandonment of a child, computer tampering, aggravated harassment; punishable by one to four years in prison.
New York recognizes violent and non-violent felonies in each class except Class A-I and Class A-II. A non-violent felony generally results in a lesser sentence. For instance, a non-violent Class C felony can result in probation instead of prison time.
In addition, violent crimes require the imposition of determinate sentences, meaning that the length of the sentence is mandatory with no minimum term specified. An indeterminate sentence includes both a minimum and a maximum term of imprisonment, meaning the convicted person can be released on probation once the minimum sentence has been reached.
Depending on whether you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, the arrest-to-trial process varies somewhat. Local courts will hear misdemeanor cases, but superior courts — called Supreme Courts in New York — will hear felony cases. The general process involves:
Arrest: Police must read you your Miranda Rights, and you have a right to remain silent. Do so.
Booking: Fingerprints are taken, you’re photographed, and your background is checked.
Arraignment: You’re brought before a court to have the charges read to you, and you are asked to plead guilty or not guilty. Your defense attorney should be with you and represent you.
Bail Hearing: Usually held at the same time as the arraignment, the judge will set bail based on factors governed by legal guidelines. The defense and prosecution will both make arguments regarding bail and possible release upon one’s own recognizance.
Discovery Phase: Police and prosecutors must turn over all documents and evidence to your defense attorney.
Pre-Trial Motions and Hearings: Your defense attorney has 45 days to file motions to suppress evidence, request dismissal, and address other matters. Preliminary hearings will be held on the motions.
Trial: A jury will be impaneled, six jurors for a misdemeanor and 12 for a felony. Opening statements, presentation of evidence, and closing statements will follow. The jury, following the judge’s instructions, will deliberate, and a verdict will be rendered.
After you are convicted in court, you have a right to file an appeal. You are allowed one appeal, which is usually made to the relevant Appellate Division in the county in which your trial was held.
An appeal must be based on what you and your defense attorney consider to be an error during the proceedings. For instance, your attorney challenged the introduction of certain evidence but their objection was overruled by the judge. Your attorney can file a brief describing how the decision prejudiced your case.
If accepted, your appeal will be heard by the Appellate Division, or another intermediary appellate court higher than the court of your conviction. If the Appellate Division rejects your appeal, you can turn to the New York Court of Appeals, which has the final say on all legal interpretations in the state but is under no obligation to accept your appeal.
A criminal conviction, even if it results just in probation, can have lifelong consequences. Your record will go with you throughout your life, jeopardizing your chances to get the job of your dreams or obtain the professional licensing you need to pursue your chosen career. A felony conviction can have even more serious consequences, including losing the right to vote and own firearms.
A public defender, no matter how well-intentioned or professionally dedicated, generally faces an onerous caseload and will often opt for a plea bargain rather than face a lengthy courtroom trial. While a plea bargain may end up being your best option, it should not be your first or only one. An immediate plea bargain can jeopardize your chances of getting the charges against you dismissed or reduced to a lesser crime. An experienced criminal defense attorney can challenge everything from your arrest to the evidence presented against you.
At the Law Offices of Douglas M. Reda, I have experience on both sides of the criminal justice process, having worked with prosecutors before deciding my heart lay with defending those facing criminal charges against a system they don’t fully understand. Call me today if you’re facing criminal proceedings in or near Suffolk County, including Commack, Central Islip, and Woodbury.