Long Island Criminal Lawyers – Your Guide to the Legal System
Hey there! My name’s John and I’m a law student who interned at a criminal defense firm on Long Island last summer. I learned a ton about how the legal system really works from the inside. And let me tell you, it’s not always like what you see on TV!
So in this article, I wanted to give you the inside scoop on dealing with criminal charges in Long Island. Whether it’s your first time being accused of a crime or you’ve been down this road before, knowing what to expect can help you make smart choices.
The Basics of Criminal Cases
The legal process on Long Island works like most places. If you’re arrested and charged with a crime, the first step is getting booked and held for arraignment. This is where you’ll go before a judge, be formally charged, and either released or have bail set.
After that, your case will go through various pretrial procedures like motions and hearings. This is where your lawyer fights to get evidence and charges dismissed if possible. And if not, they start preparing your defense for trial.
The whole pretrial process can take months or even over a year depending on the case. If no plea deal is reached and you don’t win on motions, then it’s off to trial by jury (unless you opt for a bench trial).
Trials themselves can last days or weeks depending on the complexity of the evidence and number of witnesses called. But eventually the jury will reach a verdict and the judge will impose a sentence if you’re convicted.
So that’s the very broad overview. Now let’s dig into some specifics…
Finding the Right Lawyer
If you’re facing criminal charges, having an experienced defense attorney in your corner is crucial. But not all lawyers are created equal.
Here are some tips on finding the right one:
- **Focus on criminal defense** – You want someone who specializes in criminal law and does it every day, not a general practitioner who dabbles. Look for 10+ years experience.
- **Check credentials** – Be sure they are licensed and in good standing with no history of discipline. Martindale-Hubbell is a good place to research a lawyer’s background.
- **Consider experience** – The best lawyers have experience not only practicing law, but as prosecutors or judges. This gives them insight into how the courts work.
- **Get referrals** – Friends or family with positive experiences with a criminal lawyer can be a great referral source.
- **Interview lawyers** – Sit down with them, discuss your case, and make sure you have a good rapport. This is key for a successful attorney-client relationship.
- **Compare costs** – Legal fees vary so get estimates upfront and understand what’s included. Be wary of lawyers pushing for upfront payment.
Take the time to do your research – having the right legal representation can make all the difference in the outcome of your case.
The Arraignment – What to Expect
After you’re arrested and booked, arraignment is the first time you’ll go before a judge. Some key things to expect:
- You’ll be formally read the charges against you.
- The judge will decide whether to release you or set bail. Factors considered include flight risk, danger to the community, and prior offenses.
- If released, you’ll likely have conditions like avoiding contact with victims/witnesses, maintaining employment, no drug/alcohol use, and no firearms possession.
- The judge appoints counsel if you can’t afford a lawyer. Request a public defender immediately if needed.
- You’ll be asked to enter a plea – not guilty, guilty, or no contest. Pleading not guilty preserves your rights.
- After pleading not guilty, trial and pretrial dates may be set.
Having an attorney present at your arraignment is extremely helpful, but not always possible on short notice. Be polite, don’t discuss details of the case, and focus on getting released or bail set on terms you can meet.
The Pretrial Process – Motions & Plea Bargains
After arraignment, the pretrial procedures kick into high gear. This is where the prosecution and defense start building their cases through motions, hearings, discovery, investigations, and negotiations.
Motions are formal requests your lawyer files asking the judge to do something, like throw out evidence or dismiss charges. If motions to dismiss the case are denied, the next step is usually negotiating a plea bargain.
Over 90% of criminal cases end in plea deals rather than trials. The incentives to take a plea are high. You get certainty of the outcome rather than risking trial, and often a lighter sentence. The prosecution also likes avoiding lengthy trials.
But the decision to take a deal is complex. An experienced criminal lawyer can advise if the plea terms seem fair based on the charges and evidence. They’ll also clearly explain the ramifications compared to risking trial.
Bottom line – fight for the best deal possible, but also be realistic. An aggressive lawyer can sometimes get charges reduced or even dismissed through effective pretrial motions.
Your Day in Court – Criminal Trials
If efforts to get your case resolved pretrial fall through, it’s time to present your case to a judge and jury. Criminal trials in New York follow specific procedures:
- Jury selection – Attorneys question and select jurors who will decide the case. Peremptory challenges allow removing jurors without cause.
- Opening statements – Each side outlines the case and evidence they will present. This provides a roadmap for the jury.
- Witness testimony – Witnesses are called, questioned, cross-examined, and re-directed by the attorneys to establish facts.
- Physical evidence – Documents, photographs, recordings, and objects related to the case are submitted. Chain of custody and authentication are required.
- Closing arguments – Attorneys summarize the key evidence and argue why it supports their side. Prosecution first, then defense.
- Jury instructions – The judge explains the law and charges the jury regarding their duties, burden of proof, and standards to apply.
- Deliberations – The jury meets in private to discuss the case and evidence to reach a unanimous verdict. If they can’t agree, a hung jury results in mistrial.
- Verdict – The jury’s decision is read in court. Not guilty and the case is over. Guilty leads to sentencing.
Having an experienced trial lawyer shape the narrative and tell your story in the most compelling light possible can make all the difference at trial.
Common Criminal Charges in Long Island
While every case is unique, certain types of crimes make up a large portion of cases in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Here are some of the most common:
- Drug offenses – Possession or sale of illegal drugs, especially marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and prescription medications.
- DUI – Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Can be misdemeanor or felony level.
- Theft/larceny – Stealing of property, including shoplifting, burglary, and robbery charges.
- Domestic violence – Physical abuse or threats against an intimate partner or family member.
- Weapons charges – Possession of illegal firearms, knives, brass knuckles etc. Carrying concealed weapons also illegal.
- Assault – Causing injury to another, with or without weapons. Aggravated assault is more serious bodily harm.
- Sex crimes – Rape, abuse, misconduct with a minor, solicitation, and child pornography.
This list just scratches the surface, but these categories make up a significant portion of criminal dockets. An experienced local lawyer will have defended hundreds or even thousands of cases like yours.
Long Island Courts and Key Locations
There are dozens of village, city, and town courts across Nassau and Suffolk counties. But when serious criminal cases go to trial, these main courthouses typically handle them:
- Nassau County Court – Located in Mineola, handles felony cases and appeals of lower court rulings.
- Nassau District Court – Lower level court with several locations including Hempstead and Westbury. Handles arraignments as well as misdemeanor trials and sentencings.
- Nassau County Correctional Center – Jail facility in East Meadow housing pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates.
- Suffolk County Court – Located in Riverhead, handles felony trials and sentencings.
- Suffolk County District Court – Lower courts in several locations like Central Islip and Patchogue handling arraignments, pleas, and misdemeanor trials.
- Suffolk County Jail – Houses pretrial and sentenced inmates in Yaphank and Riverhead.
- Suffolk County Crime Lab – Forensics services like drug testing and DNA analysis. Located in Hauppauge.
So those are some of the key courthouses and legal sites in the area. Having local knowledge helps lawyers navigate the system and achieve better results.
Finding Hope and Help
Being arrested and facing criminal prosecution is scary and stressful. But even if you feel alone or that the system is stacked against you, take hope in the fact that justice is still possible.
With an experienced, compassionate attorney guiding you through the process, making smart legal choices, and fighting for your rights, many positive outcomes are achievable. Even for serious charges.
So take that first step and seek help from a knowledgeable Long Island criminal lawyer. The initial consultation is often free. Learn about your options, rights, and the way forward. An attorney can support and empower you to make the best decisions during this difficult time.