Securing defense counsel before or immediately after arrest can be critical to a case. Counsel can stop the police from questioning a frightened family member. Even statements of innocence can sometimes prove problematic (i.e. using an alibi that later becomes difficult to prove). Note that some of the local District Attorney's Offices have implemented a "video enhancement" program. The program entails interrogating arrested individuals between the time of arrest and arraignment. The questioning takes place in the District Attorney's Office by experienced detectives, typically ten to twenty hours after arrest. The accused is now tired, hungry, confused and often scared. As a result, the prosecutors are consistently securing videotaped "confessions" and/or "admissions." Since they conduct the interrogation prior to the case being docketed, prosecutors maintain that "the right to counsel" has not yet attached. When hired by family and/or friends promptly after the arrest, I can stop this interrogation before it ever starts. It is also important to ensure that identification procedures are conducted fairly. Having representation at a line-up can also prove helpful. Often, there is no case without the identification. Accordingly, hiring counsel familiar with the issues surrounding identification is another way to afford yourself, family member or friend with the best legal protection.
This is a very important stage of the proceedings where the accused is presented with the alleged facts of the case and the corresponding criminal charges against the client. Legal notices are served (including identifications by complainants and/or witnesses, as well as statements by the accused). Preserving a client’s right to testify before a Grand Jury should be served at this stage of the proceedings. On petit crimes (minor offenses limited to misdemeanors and violations) there is occasional plea bargaining and dispositions. Of course, arraignments are also the time that the Judge makes a bail determination. While the arraignment is not intended to be a preview of a trial, Judges consider not only the severity of the charges, but the strength of the prosecutor's case. Having an experienced trial attorney present to quickly dissect problems with the government's case demonstrates to the Court the likelihood of a favorable outcome, the resulting incentive for the accused to return to Court to fight the case, and the consequential appropriateness of low or no bail.
The Court takes into account numerous factors, including: the seriousness of the charges, strength or weakness of the evidence in the case, criminal history of the accused, employment and/or education history, community ties and unique mitigating or aggravating factors. The Court can release the accused on his/her own recognizance (ROR), set bail in a monetary amount (from one dollar to millions), or remand (which means to “hold” without bail). The quality of legal representation and aggressive advocacy plays a major role in that determination and often makes the difference between walking out of court, or heading to Rikers Island.
This is another critical stage of the case. In some counties, up to eighty percent (80%) of felonies are disposed of prior to indictment. Accordingly, it is important to have experienced counsel who will be able to: investigate the facts (often with the assistance of a private investigator); assess the legal issues; formulate strategy; adeptly plea bargain, when appropriate; and, if warranted, prepare for a Grand Jury.
GRAND JURY PROCEEDINGS
Grand Juries are “investigative bodies” made up of sixteen to twenty three (16-23) individuals. The burden of proof is "reasonable cause" to believe that the accused committed the offense. There is no Judge present during a Grand Jury presentation. Most defense attorneys have limited experience with Grand Juries as the overwhelming majority of defendants decline to exercise their right to testify at this stage. It is essential that the client works closely with counsel to determine whether or not he/she should offer witnesses or testify in his/her own behalf. Not only is the decision pivotal, but in the event the client chooses to testify, preparation by a former prosecutor who presented hundreds of cases to Grand Juries can be a dramatic advantage. If successful in the Grand Jury, the charges can be dismissed or reduced from felony to misdemeanor charges. If unsuccessful, the case is transferred from Criminal Court (District Court outside NYC) to Supreme Court, Criminal Term (County Court outside NYC).
While rarely seen on television and not well understood by the general public, these hearings can be the key to a successful defense. The hearings typically address the legality of the police conduct and determine whether or not the prosecution can use certain evidence at trial. It may include physical evidence (i.e. the gun in a weapon possession case), statements (including "admissions" or "confessions"), and identifications (such as line-ups). Preclusion or suppression of this evidence can significantly weaken the prosecution’s case, sometimes even undermining the entire case. Having a sharp attorney, familiar with the legal issues and experienced in cross-examining witnesses can make all the difference.
Most individuals charged with criminal conduct never make it to this stage. For those who have been unable to work out an agreeable resolution, or unable to persuade the prosecution of their innocence, trials are the only other option available. The defense attorney must first counsel his client as to whether or not he/she is better off with a Judge (bench trial) or a (petit) Jury. Familiarity with the Judge and jurisdiction is essential to making this determination. Trials are where the issues of fact are decided and the quality of your trial lawyer can be the difference between a conviction or acquittal. A trial consists of: jury selection, opening statements cross-examination, direct examination and summations. Having a lawyer who has tried cases for the prosecution and defense provides a distinct advantage.
For those unsuccessful at trial or those who entered pleas, a Judge imposes sentences, that depending on the charges can range to a conditional discharge (promise to stay out of trouble) to a lifetime of incarceration. The defense attorney's job is not over once there has been a conviction or plea. Sentencing advocacy is sometimes just as important as trial skills.
The defense asks a higher Court to reverse the trial Court's decision based on error.