Unable to Appear in a New York Criminal Court: NY CPL 340.20 Pleas and Dismissals without an Appearance

Although I couldn’t tell you the exact number, there are millions of people who come to New York City – its boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn (technically Kings County) – on any given day. Whether they are commuters, tourists or here solely for a brief business stay, some of these people find themselves in hot water, aka, under arrest by the NYPD. If the crime charged is, for example, PL 155.25 or PL 165.40 for a shoplifting arrest at Macys or Century 21, PL 220.03 for getting busted doing a “bump” of cocaine outside a bar, PL 120.00 for a fist fight with some random stranger, or something of the felony variety which is quite more serious, they will have a date with a judge in criminal court. By Desk Appearance Ticket (D.A.T. or Appearance Ticket) or as a result of an all out arrest cooling their heals in the “Tombs”, if a criminal case is not resolved immediately a defendant will be required to return to court. Live in California, Texas, England, Australia or China? No, you don’t get a pass. Without prior agreement, failure to return will result in the issuance of a Bench Warrant.

So, what can you do? If you are asking yourself “Do I have to come back to court or can it be resolved in my absence,” then this blog may good place to start to understand the legal issues and process so that you can make an informed decision¬† with your criminal defense attorney when assessing your options.New York Criminal Procedure Law 340.20 dictates the means by which a person can plead guilty and whether they are required to do so in person or through their attorney. The relevant and pertinent language of Criminal Procedure Law 340.20(2) is as follows:

“[A] plea to an information must be entered orally by the defendant in person unless the court permits entry thereof by counsel upon the filing by him of a written and subscribed statement by the defendant declaring that he waives his right to plead to the information in person and authorizing his attorney to enter a plea on his behalf as set forth in the authorization.”
In non-lawyer terms, what this means is that with the court’s acceptance (which you may not get in advance as you are more likely to get approval from the DA’s Office), your attorney can have you sign a notarized affidavit giving him or her permission to accept a plea. Generally speaking, this plea would not be to a crime (although this is permitted to the misdemeanor), but to a violation such as Disorderly Conduct pursuant to New York Penal Law 240.20. Even better, subject to your criminal defense attorney supplying the proper language within the four corners of the affidavit, he or she can also accept an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal in your absence.
Anecdotally, I have no recollection of any of the New York criminal lawyers at Crotty Saland PC standing before a judge in a New York City Criminal Court where the judge denied our criminal lawyers from accepting a violation or ACD whether was on a return date after the defendant’s initial arraignment or on the first appearance pursuant to a DAT. That said, each case is different from the one before it and every judge does not hold the same view when a person does not appear in court regardless if they are students in Florida or foreign nationals who subsequently returned to Germany after the expiration of their visas.
If you are already back in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa or the Middle East after being arrested and given a NYC Desk Appearance Ticket or you are working in Seattle or Chicago and can’t come back for a second or third court date, do yourself a favor. Communicate with your attorney. Ascertain whether the affidavit approach as identified in CPL 340.20(2) will work for you, and be prepared to explain, should your lawyer be asked, the reason for your absence to minimize the risk of a warrant being issued for your arrest. Don’t let your permanent scarring of your record. Best secure an outcome where there are little or not consequences to your legal status in the United States.
The New York criminal lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at Crotty Saland PC represent the accused in all areas of the New York criminal law from investigation, arrest and arraignment, to motion practice, pleas and trials. To read more about the crimes mentioned above, click on the respective links or click through the blog and websites below.
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