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Charging Processes in NYC
When you’re charged with a crime in New York City, you’ll go through one of three processes:
- DAT (“desk appearance ticket”).
- Full arrest.
The 519,973 arrests made by the NYPD in 2017 consisted of:
- 151,565 felony arrests (96,658 “seven major felony” arrests, plus 54,907 “non-seven major felony” arrests).
- 300,354 misdemeanor arrests.
- 68,054 violation arrests.
(Felonies are serious crimes. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes. Violations are non-criminal offenses.)
A large percentage of those arrests resulted in police issuing summonses and desk appearance tickets (pieces of paper notifying the recipient of a future court date) rather than making full arrests.
In recent years, the percentage of arrestees receiving a piece of paper (a summons or a DAT) is increasing. The percentage of arrestees undergoing the far more unpleasant experience of full arrest is decreasing.
A summons is a piece of paper that a police officer hands to you on the street, similar to a traffic ticket, directing you to appear in Criminal Court on a particular date. In New York City, police may issue summonses for certain misdemeanors and violations that are defined by laws other than the Penal Law, and for some violations that are defined under the Penal Law. (See NYPD policy regarding when summonses may be issued.) For example, police may issue summonses for violating almost any section of the NYC Administrative Code.
A person who receives a summons isn’t taken to a police station, isn’t arrest-photographed, and isn’t fingerprinted.
In court, a “judicial hearing officer” – not a judge – often presides over summons proceedings. But don’t get complacent! You could end up with a criminal record following a one-minute trial before a judicial hearing officer.
Issuance of a summons is the least intrusive form of arrest. Often, in fact, issuance of a summons might not fall within the legal definition of an arrest.
In 2017, the NYPD issued 165,056 Criminal Court summonses.
DAT (“Desk Appearance Ticket”)
Like a summons, a DAT is a piece of paper that directs you to appear in Criminal Court on a certain date. Police sometimes have authority to issue DAT’s for misdemeanors (fairly common) and low-level felonies (much less common). However, police may not issue DAT’s to people charged with certain types of crimes, such as “family offenses” and sex crimes. There are other limitations as well. (See NYPD policy regarding when DAT’s may be issued.)
DAT’s are issued at police stations, not on the street. First, the person arrested is thoroughly searched, fingerprinted, and photographed – none of which typically happens before a summons is issued.
A person who receives a DAT usually spends two to three hours in custody at the precinct before being released.
An arrest that results in a DAT being issued is substantially more intrusive than an arrest that results in a summons. However, a DAT arrest is substantially less intrusive than a full arrest.
In 2017, the NYPD issued 52,975 DAT’s.
A full arrest ends with arraignment in Criminal Court or Supreme Court, rather than at the police station (like a DAT) or on the street (like a summons).
A person subjected to a full-blown arrest is thoroughly searched, fingerprinted, and arrest-photographed. The “arrestee” (the arrested person) remains at the precinct, while the arresting officer completes arrest paperwork. Police might interrogate the arrestee. Police might place the arrestee in a lineup. After several hours, the arrestee is transported from the precinct to “Central Booking”.
There is a Central Booking facility connected to the main Criminal Courthouse in each borough of New York City. Usually, the arrestee waits at Central Booking, in a large holding cell with dozens of other arrestees charged with a wide range of crimes. During this time, a prosecutor drafts an “accusatory instrument”, with the assistance of the arresting officer. When all necessary documents are filed with the Court, the Court generates a “docket number” (a unique number that identifies your court case) and the arrestee eventually appears in court for “arraignment”.
Arraignment is the initial Criminal Court proceeding at which the arrested person is present, in the status of “defendant”. At arraignment, the Court informs the defendant of the charges. The Court then determines whether to set bail and, if so, the dollar amount and form (cash, credit card, bail bond, etc.) of bail to set.
A person subjected to full arrest is typically in custody for 12 to 24 hours before arraignment. Compared with 2 to 3 hours spent in custody before release on a DAT arrest, and 10 to 20 minutes in custody before receipt of a summons, full arrest is clearly the most intrusive and stressful arrest process.
Based on the NYPD statistics described above, of 519,973 arrests made by the NYPD in 2017:
- 165,056 resulted in issuance of summonses.
- 52,975 resulted in issuance of DAT’s.
- 301,942 resulted in full arrests.
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