The New York Criminal Court System

The Criminal Courts

In New York State the criminal court system can be very confusing. Often New York residents charged with a crime and out of state criminal defendants and/or their family's are confused over the process and the court system in general. Every criminal defense attorney needs to know the entire criminal court system in New York and even the extension of various offenses in the New York Family Court. This is a review of those courts.

Superior and Local Courts

The New York State Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) defines Superior Courts (County and Supreme Court) and Local Criminal Courts (New York City Criminal Court, City Courts, District Courts (Long Island), Town Courts and Village Courts).

Superior Courts hear felony cases and Local Courts hear misdemeanor cases. Where one is arrested and for what crime dictates the Court.

The Local Court

A defendant charged with misdemeanors only will start and stay in the local criminal court. A defendant charged with only felonies can start in a Local Court but must be prosecuted in a Superior Court. If there are multiple charges including at least one felony all the charges must be heard in the Superior Court.

For example, a DWI arrest in the Town of Bedford, New York will be prosecuted in the local Town of Bedford Justice Court. If the DWI charge is not a felony the entire case will be heard in the Bedford Justice Court. If the DWI charge is a felony the initial proceedings will start in the Bedford Court but must be prosecuted in the Superior Court. If the felony charge is reduced to a misdemeanor the case will stay or be returned to the Bedford Court.

Another example, the Westchester local City courts include, White Plains City Court, Yonkers City Court, Mount Vernon City Court, Rye City Court, New Rochelle City Court and Peekskill City Court.

Local Town Courts include Mount Pleasant, Rye, Somers, Mount Kisco, Greenburgh, Ossining, Bedford.

The Village Courts include, North Castle (Armonk), New Castle (Chappaqua), Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, Elmsford, Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Bronxville, Scarsdale, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Harrison, Port Chester, Rye Brook, Croton on Hudson, Hastings on Hudson, Tuckahoe, Cortlandt, Pelham

The Superior Courts

Superior Courts hear Felony cases in Supreme or County Court. At times a Superior Court judge may assume the role of a Local Court judge to accomplish some procedural aspect of a case but the important point to remember is that felonies are heard in Superior Courts.

Felony Cases

In New York City felonies are usually immediately indicted by a Grand Jury so that they will be heard exclusively in the Superior Court. Outside of New York City most felonies are not immediately indicted and proceed in the local criminal court by Felony Complaint as opposed to Indictment.

For example, a defendant is charged in the City of Yonkers with a drug possession felony charge. The defendant will be arraigned in the Yonkers City Court, bail can usually be set and the defendant is entitled to a Felony Hearing to determine if the charge is supported by reasonable cause. Unless the felony is reduced to a misdemeanor the case will eventually be heard in Superior Court. If the defendant is indicted the case is transferred to Superior Court.

Specialized Courts

In New York State, depending on the County, a case may be transferred to a Specialized Superior Court even if the charges are misdemeanors. These specialized courts include Domestic Violence Courts, DWI Courts and Drug Courts. Not every County has the same Specialized Courts nor does every local court transfer cases to these Specialized Courts. This is something that needs to be reviewed on a case by case basis with a Criminal Defense Attorney.

Criminal Court and Family Court

In matters involving offenses committed against a family member the complainant can proceed in both the Family Court and the Criminal Courts in New York State. The complainant can also proceed in just one of these courts.

Having matters in both of these Courts can be complex. It can raise many issues involving various legal strategies and can impact on various custody and/or visitation rights. The top criminal defense lawyers will know the interplay between these two courts.

For example, a Family Offense Petition filed in the Putnam County Family Court can also be prosecuted in the local Putnam county criminal court. The charge will be the same usually with the exact set of factual circumstances. For example, criminal mischief (damaging the property of another) or Harassment. Issues involving statements, double jeopardy or testimony in Court can impact how these cases are resolved.

The New York State Criminal Courts is can be confusing because there are many different types of courts, Counties and procedures vary. A good understanding of the process and the courts will will help in making any decision for yourself or a loved one much easier. Always consult with a criminal defense attorney.