Whether you have been issued a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT or D.A.T.) in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, the process is the same when you go to court the first time. Generally, it is best to have retained an experienced criminal defense attorney prior to going to court. Why? Upon arriving in court without an attorney, you will bring a copy of your desk appearance ticket to the front of the courtroom and place it in a bin or give it to a court officer. After dropping off your desk appearance ticket, you will wait until the legal aid attorney or 18-b assigned counsel (both “public defenders”) call out your name. This will be the first time you will have the opportunity to discuss anything with your lawyer. That is right. You will not have a chance to talk to your attorney until you are already in the courtroom….you and the other five, fifteen or thirty other defendants. In fact, there could be well over one hundred people just like you waiting to see the judge.
After he or she calls your name, you will have a brief period of time to discuss your case with the attorney. Sometime after that (it could be 30 minutes or it could be a few hours), you and your assigned attorney will go before the judge. At that time, your assigned attorney will enter a plea of “not guilty” on your behalf. After that, depending on the nature of the case, the prosecution may make you an offer. For example, if you are accused of shoplifting and charged with Petit Larceny (NY Penal Law 155.25) or Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (NY Penal Law 165.40) in Manhattan, the prosecutor will likely offer you the violation of Disorderly Conduct (NY Penal Law 240.20). While a plea to this offense will not give you a criminal record and is “sealed,” the arrest and plea may show up on a background check years down the road. Obviously, the ramifications to you may be enormous. This is not to scare you, but a realistic outcome that may not be explored in detail at your arraignment with your assigned counsel. While a plea such as this may “end” your case, it may not be in your best interest and cause future distress and real life problems.
If you take a plea at this time, your case will be over for all intents and purposes. However, depending on the disposition of a case, you may have to sign up for community service or a program. Moreover, there may be a fine or fee you must pay. If you are responsible for these fees or community service you will have to return on a future date to show proof.
The above mentioned hypothetical example of the shoplifting case should highlight why you may want to retain private criminal defense counsel prior to going to court. First, you would have met with your lawyer and fully discussed a plan of action prior to coming to court instead of meeting your public defender for the first time while in court. At that time he or she will be handling multiple cases and as a practical matter not have the ability to have an extensive conversation with you. That being said, do not misconstrue what I am saying. There are many amazing legal aid and 18-b attorneys who have the skills to rival any private attorney. However, the reality of the situation is that he or she will not have the time to get all the information or conduct an investigation when the meet you in court right before you see the judge.
Another reason you should consider bringing your own criminal defense lawyer to court is that you may lose the opportunity to implement your defense or hamper the ability to do so. For example, you will have the right to challenge certain evidence against you that the prosecution offers. It may be that this evidence is not damaging or, for whatever reason you decide, you may not wish to challenge it. Therefore, at that time of your arraignment your attorney may want to waive those motions for procedural purpose. While the reasons are too lengthy to discuss here, if you fail to take this action at arraignments you will lose the opportunity to obtain certain potential benefits.
As mentioned above, you will not only lack the opportunity to get into the “nitty-gritty” of your facts and possible defenses with a public lawyer, but hiring a criminal defense attorney will likely save you a significant amount of time. Often at an arraignment for a desk appearance ticket (DAT), private attorneys have their cases called before attorneys who are assigned to that courtroom for the day. Obviously, this assumes you and your attorney arrive timely, but retaining private counsel could mean the difference between sitting in court for fifteen minutes or two hours after the judge starts calling the cases.
Ultimately, the choice to retain private criminal defense counsel is up to you. There are great legal aid attorneys and 18-b lawyers who will serve you tremendously. However, as a former Manhattan prosecutors, we at Crotty Saland PC strive to provide each and every client with the best criminal defense and all around service available – each and every time.
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