Although not a firm rule, New York City Desk Appearance Tickets (commonly called a DAT or Appearance Ticket) are generally issued to individuals who have little or no prior arrest history and are charge with misdemeanor crimes. These crimes include many serious offenses – Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree (NY PL 265.01), Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree (NY PL 220.03), Petit Larceny (NY PL 155.25), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree (165.40), Assault in the Third Degree (NY PL 120.00) – and are punishable by as long as one year in jail upon conviction. Even if you never step into Central Booking or Rikers Island, a conviction for shoplifting, possession of cocaine, having a gravity knife or getting into a drunken fistfight can and likely will adversely impact your career, professional licensing or immigration status. Although there are numerous blog entries and extensive content on the New-York-Lawyers.org website that address these crimes, this entry will address what “Top Offense Charged” means and how it may impact your case.
Because a Desk Appearance Ticket in NYC will only reflect or charge one crime, many people believe that whatever is on the face of the appearance ticket is the only crime that they will have to deal with. Simply, this is absolutely incorrect. For example, if you are arrested in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx for shoplifting, and the value of the alleged property is equal to or less than $1,000.00, your DAT may read “Top Offense Charged: PL 155.25”. Alternatively, instead of PL 155.25, it may reflect the crime of PL 165.40. As a practical matter, once a prosecutor or Assistant District Attorney drafts up your criminal court complaint, the accusatory instrument (charging document) will likely have both crimes. That’s correct, you will likely face two misdemeanors. Why is this relevant to understanding “Top Offense Charged”? It is relevant because a DAT is merely a document advising you to come to court with a preliminary charge that may be changed to a higher (or lesser) offense and only one crime will be written on the face of this notice.
Other examples worth noting are cases where a police officer or detective with the NYPD charges you with possessing a controlled substance. If, for example, you are accused of possessing cocaine in a small “personal use” amount, the “Top Offense Charged” will be PL 220.03, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree. However, because at this stage of the process the police are at best doing a field test and at worst using their experience and training to draw a conclusion, they will often not attempt to determine the weight of the controlled substance. In the event that a laboratory analysis is requested and the weight of the cocaine is 500 mg or more, the crime is a class D felony. This offense, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Fifth Degree, PL 220.06, will not be charged on your DAT. As such, your “Top Offense Charged” could certainly give you a false sense of relative security.
Touching on some other examples where “Top Offense Charged” is not accurate or doesn’t fully reflect the crimes you will face come your arraignment, a Petit Larceny that turns out to be in excess of $1,000 becomes a felony Fourth Degree Grand Larceny, PL 155.30. Possession of a per se weapon and an arrest for PL 265.01 could end up being bumped up to a class D felony of PL 265.02 if you have any prior criminal conviction. You won’t know any of this when you leave the police station after your three or four hour processing, but it will certainly slam you right in the face when you and your criminal defense attorney appear before a judge for your first appearance. These are merely a few scenarios you may face.
Whether or not the “Top Offense Charged” on your DAT, appearance ticket or Desk Appearance Ticket (sometimes people even call them “white tickets”) is accurate or merely one of may crimes charged after you arrest has been processed, take the time to review the allegations, evidence and facts. Armed with information and an experienced criminal defense lawyer, you will likely have not only a better or more clear idea of what you are facing, but a defense that can potentially circumvent the direct and collateral consequence of a conviction all together.
To learn more about any of the crimes mentioned above as well as NYC Desk Appearance Tickets, follow any of the links above or go directly to the websites listed below (even if the crime above is not linked, there is significant felony and misdemeanor content on both New-York-Lawyers.org and NYDeskAppearanceTicket.Com). A New York criminal defense firm, Saland Law PC was founded by two New York criminal lawyers who served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.