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Although most defendants plead guilty before trial, some cases do go to trial. At trial, the prosecutor has the burden of presenting evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charged offense or offenses. The defendant does not have to prove, or disprove, anything at trial.
Evidence at trial many include testimony of witnesses; physical evidence, such as a gun; photographs or videos; and scientific evidence. For felonies and most misdemeanors, the defendant has the right to a jury trial or a trial to be decided by the judge (called a non-jury or bench trial), at the defendant’s option. For traffic infractions and violations, the judge will always decide the guilt or non-guilt of the defendant.
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In New York, there are four classes of offenses for which a person may be prosecuted: traffic infractions, violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. Traffic infractions and violations are considered “petty offenses,” and are not considered crimes. They carry the least severe sanctions, generally no more than fines or jail sentences of up to fifteen days.
Misdemeanors and felonies are crimes. Misdemeanors are less-serious crimes, carrying no more than one year in jail. Felonies are more serious, and carry more than a year of imprisonment, including possible life sentences for the most-serious felonies.
Generally, an arrest is the first stage in the criminal justice process, although in cases involving non-alcohol-related traffic infractions, defendants will almost always be issued traffic citations and not be taken into custody. In most cases, other than traffic infractions, the defendant will be fingerprinted. Police officers will also prepare reports concerning the offense and the arrest.
For many less-serious crimes and petty offenses, the arresting officer may give the defendant an appearance ticket, which allows the officer to release the defendant from custody and requires the defendant to appear in court at a later date. If an appearance ticket is not issued, a defendant will be held to appear before a judge.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office represents the People of the State of New York, and has the authority to investigate and prosecute all offenses in Orange County. In most traffic infraction cases, and all violations of municipal ordinances, the District Attorney defers prosecution authority to municipal attorneys and police officers.
The District Attorney is elected by the residents of his or her county, to represent the state in proceedings against those accused of offenses. David M. Hoovler is the Orange County District Attorney. The approximately 45 attorneys who work in his office are called Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs).
The District Attorney’s Office has two ADAs on-call 24 hours a day, year-round. When the District Attorney’s Office is closed, those on-call ADAs are available to respond to the scene of major crimes, to answer inquiries from police agencies, and to make recommendations regarding the amount of bail to be set in a particular case. In addition, a district attorney’s investigator is on-call at all times, to assist the on-call ADAs and police agencies, as necessary.
An arraignment represents a defendant’s first appearance in court. At arraignment, the defendant is informed of the charges against him and a bail determination is made. He is also informed of some of his rights, including his right to an attorney, his right to an adjournment to get an attorney, his right to remain silent, his right to a trial, and, in felony cases, his right to a preliminary hearing.
The defendant is notified of his next court appearance. Often a defendant will not have an attorney at arraignment. When the defendant returns to court at a later date, the defendant will then be arraigned again with an attorney present.
Use the following guidelines when looking at bail and how it is set:
Local criminal courts have jurisdiction over all aspects of prosecution for misdemeanors and petty offenses, including the assignment of counsel, discovery, pretrial motions, trial, and sentencing. The court is also authorized to accept guilty pleas, which may occur at any time after arraignment.
The following happens to a felony case after arraignment:
Grand jury proceedings are secret and only specifically authorized people can be present in the grand jury chamber, including the grand jurors, the ADA, a stenographer, the witness being questioned, and a few other classes of people necessary to support certain witnesses or to assist the functioning of the grand jury. Only the members of the grand jury may be present while the grand jury deliberates.
The grand jury must file the indictment with the County Court, and the defendant must be arraigned on the indictment. The arraignment process, bail proceedings, and pretrial proceedings conducted in County Court will be similar to those described above with respect to local criminal courts.
In addition, at the County Court arraignment, the prosecutor gives the defendant a copy of the indictment and certain documents that the law requires. The defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty to the indictment. Bail may be reviewed and different conditions set.
Trials generally consist of several distinct stages:
Depending on the circumstances of the particular case, sentencing may occur right after the plea or trial, or may be delayed for several weeks so that the Orange County Probation Department may prepare a presentence report which will aid the judge in determining the appropriate sentence. Unless a sentence is negotiated as part of a plea agreement, the judge will determine the defendant’s sentence based on the facts of the case and the laws governing permissible sentences.
A person can be sentenced to incarceration, probation, a fine, or a combination of those sentences. A defendant can also be sentenced to a conditional discharge, whereby the defendant is released with conditions imposed on him that order the defendant to, for example, complete community service or domestic violence classes, to abide by an order of protection, to pay restitution, or to remain arrest-free.
A defendant who is convicted by plea of guilty or convicted after trial may appeal his conviction, or sentence, or both, to an appellate court. If an appellate court affirms a conviction, the defendant loses his appeal and his conviction and sentence are not disturbed. If an appellate court reverses a judgment of conviction, the defendant can either withdraw his guilty plea or receive a new trial, or, the verdict or plea may stand, but the defendant can be resentenced.
The District Attorney may not appeal an acquittal after trial. The District Attorney may appeal a dismissal by a judge that occurred before a trial has begun, or a ruling by a judge that renders the District Attorney unable to prosecute a case based on that ruling. The District Attorney may also appeal an illegal sentence.