A crime in New York State is any felony or misdemeanor. Felonies are the most serious crimes. There are 5 classes of felonies, A, B, C, D, & E, with A the most serious and E the least. Below felonies are 2 classes of misdemeanors, A and B. Below misdemeanors are violations.
A violation is against the law but it is not a crime. Conviction of a violation may subject a defendant to a fine or up to 15 days in jail, but does not give the defendant a criminal record because a violation is not a crime, and the definition of a criminal record is a record of conviction of a crime (meaning a felony or misdemeanor). Examples of violations are parking tickets, traffic tickets and some minor penal law offenses like disorderly conduct, harrassment, and the lowest grade of unlawful possession of marajuana.
The definition of a felony is a crime for which a defendant may be incarcerated for more than one year (in other words, in the state prison system). The definition of a misdemeanor is a crime for which a defendant may not be incarcerated for more than one year. A misdemeanor defendant may serve up to one year in jail on a class A misdemeanor and up to 90 days on a class B misdemeanor. These misdemeanor sentences would be served in the local county penitentiary, not in the state prison system.
A frequent first concern at the start of any criminal matter is bail. Bail is in effect a ransom, set by the court, to make sure a defendant returns to the court on all dates the court may set. The best bail status a defendant can get is an ROR. That stands for Release on Recognizance. It means the defendant is released on his or her promise to return without having to post a cash or bond bail.
There is no upper limit on the amount of bail a court may set whether the case be a misdeanor or a felony. However, the court must set some bail figure on a misdemeanor. But on felonies there are a number of circumstances where a court either cannot or may not set a bail. That is called a remand status and it means the defendant will not be released period. No bail will be accepted.
Local courts (explained below) cannot set bail on a felony matter where the charge is a class A felony or where the defendant has two prior felony convictions. Local courts also on a new felony arrest do not have jurisdiction to set a bail without the DA's consent and without a rap sheet (prior criminal history based on fingerprints) unless a reasonable period within which to get a rap sheet has passed.
Any person charged with any crime or violation is presumed innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to a trial. Persons charged with violations are not entitled to jury trials. A person charged with a crime (any felony or misdemeanor) is entitled to a jury trial. However, very few cases go to trial, under 5% in my experience. That means that more than 95% are resolved by the only other method which is plea bargaining.
More than 95% of persons charged resolve their matters by plea bargain because they believe that process will give them a better result than a trial. Plea bargaining is a process of negotiation with the district attorney and the court intended to reach a result that is agreed upon by all parties. A defendant's incentive to accept a plea bargain usually consists of a reduction of the charge or a less than maximum sentence promise, or both.
All misdemeanor and violation level cases start in a local court. In Westchester, Putnam and the Hudson Valley, local courts are town, city and village courts. Local courts have trial jurisdiction of misdemeanor and violation cases brought before them. That means that if the misdemeanor or violation case goes to trial the trial will be had in that local court.
Most felony cases also start in a local court (except for sealed indictments). If the district attorney does not make a misdemeanor plea bargain offer to resolve the felony case in the local court, then the matter leaves the local court. A felony case goes then to a superior court, meaning County Court or Supreme Court. County and Supreme Courts have trial jurisdiction over felony charges.
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