Understanding The Criminal Process After Your Arrest

From arraignments and surety bonds to plea bargains and the Fifth Amendment, there are many complex aspects of the criminal justice system to navigate following an arrest in New York. The criminal legal process may be easier to understand after a consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in New York. Call 845-567-4820 to schedule a consultation with the dedicated New York criminal law attorneys at The Law Office of Benjamin Greenwald. With our assistance, defendants can discuss their next steps in more detail – including potential defense strategies. 

Handcuffs and gavel laid out during criminal justice procedures.

The District Attorney’s Office Decides Whether to Bring Charges

An arrest does not necessarily lead to criminal charges. Immediately after being arrested by a police officer, an individual is merely a “suspect.” This is true even if it appears that the individual clearly committed a crime. While a police officer has the power to make arrests, they do not have the authority to charge anyone with a crime. Instead, they may only inform the District Attorney’s Office (DA) of their suspicions. 

According to the New York Police Department, it is the District Attorney’s Office that decides whether to press charges. If the DA decides to press charges, the suspect becomes a “defendant.” Alternatively, the DA might decide not to pursue the case – perhaps due to misunderstandings, cases of mistaken identity, or lack of evidence. If the DA does not pursue charges, the defendant must be released. Most police officers wait until they have sufficient evidence before initiating arrests – particularly for serious crimes. 


Note that even if the DA decides not to press charges, a defendant may face arrest for the same alleged offense at a later date. Police officers, detectives, and federal agencies may conduct investigations after the release of a suspect. If they succeed in gathering more compelling evidence, they may return to the DA. At this point, the DA may change course and press charges. 


If a suspect faces a misdemeanor charge, the DA can decide whether to bring charges with no further oversight. If a suspect faces a felony, however, an indictment may be necessary. The defendant may request a preliminary hearing when facing an indictment. During this hearing, they can present evidence and testimony with help from a lawyer. The court may then turn the case over to a Grand Jury, which hears the facts of the case and decides whether to indict the defendant. If the prosecution does not present any compelling evidence during this process, the defendant should walk free. Alternatively, the Grand Jury may determine that the defendant committed a misdemeanor and not a felony.  


After the indictment, the criminal process moves on to the arraignment. For misdemeanor cases in New York, the arraignment occurs without an indictment. During the arraignment, the court informs the defendant of the charges they face. At this point, the defendant can either plead guilty or not guilty. If a defendant pleads guilty, the court may sentence them immediately. Alternatively, the court may set a later date for sentencing. Another option is to pursue a plea deal. After the arraignment, the defendant and their defense lawyer can negotiate with the prosecutors for A plea deal, which may lead to a more lenient sentence. However, these negotiations may also occur at almost any time during the criminal process – right up until the verdict. 

If the defendant pleads not guilty, then they will proceed with the trial process. After the arraignment, the court schedules a pretrial conference and a subsequent trial. Before the trial, the defendant and their defense lawyer may file various motions – perhaps challenging the validity of evidence or trustworthiness of witnesses. Each of these motions may lead to their own separate hearings.

You Have a Legal Right to a Speedy Trial

Due to the Sixth Amendment, this criminal process should occur relatively quickly. Also known as the “right to a speedy trial,” the Sixth Amendment ensures numerous protections for defendants in the United States. If there are unnecessary delays in the criminal process, the Sixth Amendment may even force prosecutors to drop charges entirely. Contact the experienced criminal defense lawyers at The Law Office of Benjamin Greenwald to ensure that you receive a speedy trial and the justice you deserve under the law. 


After your arraignment, the court may agree to release you from custody until your next court date. This process is called bail, and defendants often work with bail bondsmen to secure their freedom while they fight their charges. Bail bondsmen pay bail for defendants who cannot afford to do so themselves. In exchange, they receive a fee. When the case is over, the court returns the bail payment – minus a 3% government surcharge. However, bail may not be possible in some cases – particularly those involving violent crimes. According to New York Courts, defendants with extensive criminal records may lose the right to bail. 


If a defendant pleads not guilty, the criminal process moves on to the “discovery” pre-trial phase. During this phase, both prosecutors and defendants attempt to gather as much information about the case as possible. They must also share relevant information with each other – especially upon request. Prosecutors face strict restrictions against so-called “surprise witnesses.” The defense attorney should be aware of the evidence that will appear in the trial, and they should have enough time to prepare. 


A criminal trial follows the discovery phase. The trial begins with opening arguments, and it ends with closing arguments. During a trial, both the defendant and the prosecution can present evidence and testimony. In New York, prosecutors must prove guilt “beyond reasonable doubt.” After the trial, a jury comprised of New York citizens decides whether the defendant is guilty. Even if there is a small degree of doubt about whether the defendant is innocent, they should find them not guilty. 

Handle Your Next Steps with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney at The Law Office of Benjamin Greenwald

Although courts will assign public defenders to defendants who cannot afford lawyers, an effective legal defense is a way to ensure your legal rights remain protected in a criminal case. Freedom is priceless. To discuss the criminal process in more detail, contact our dedicated and compassionate criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office Of Benjamin Greenwald today. Call 845-567-4820 to learn more about the criminal process after your arrest and all of your legal options.