Your husband and his brother had gone to a tailgating party before a Bills' game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. After the game was over, he called to say they might stop for a final drink at the bar near the house and would be home soon. It sounded like they were having a great time. The next call you got was not so jovial -- they had made it to the bar, but there had been some sort of scuffle and your husband had been arrested! What happens now? What should you expect? Here to help is some basic information on criminal cases in Buffalo and Erie County.
People and Places
The first people you typically run into in a criminal case in Buffalo are officers from the Buffalo Police Department, the Erie County Sheriff's Office, or the New York State Police.
The case will likely be prosecuted by the Erie County District Attorney's Office. If you cannot afford a defense attorney, you might be represented by an attorney from the Public Defender Unit of the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo (716-853-9555).
Depending on the type of crime, your case might be heard in the Buffalo City Court or the Erie County Court. FindLaw has compiled a helpful directory of Buffalo Courthouses. Time in jail or a holding cell may be spent at the Erie County Holding Center or the Erie County Correctional Facility.
Arrest, Booking and Bail
Typically, a law enforcement officer will make an arrest when he either personally observes a crime, has "probable cause" to do so, or a warrant has issued. There are general procedures that should be followed by the police, including reading your "Miranda" rights before interrogation and refraining from using "excessive force." At any rate, it's not a good idea to resist arrest or argue with the police.
The next steps in the process are typically booking and bail. This is basically when your information is entered into the system and a determination is made as to whether you can be released from custody in exchange for a promise (often backed by money or collateral) that you will return to appear in court. The Erie County Sheriff's Office has information on posting cash bail.
Cases proceed slightly differently depending on whether the charged offense is a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanors are generally lesser crimes with less severe punishments, while felonies are more serious. How a crime is classified has many implications.
The court proceedings associated with a felony charge are outlined by the Erie County District Attorney's Office. As explained, the court proceedings generally begin with an arraignment. This is the time when you enter your plea, are informed of the charges against you, and are asked whether you need an attorney. Bail may be set by the judge at this time. You will typically proceed to a preliminary hearing, which is when the judge determines whether there is reasonable cause that a crime occurred and you were the one who did it. The case may then proceed to a grand jury which decides whether you will proceed to trial on the felony charge, proceed to trial on a misdemeanor charge, or have the charges dismissed. If you proceed to trial there will likely be pre-trial hearings and motions and the case may resolve by way of plea bargain or may continue to trial.
Legal terminology can often be confusing. You may find this glossary prepared by the Erie County District Attorney's Office useful.
After a conviction or a guilty plea, you typically proceed to sentencing or legal punishment. Depending on the circumstances, you might be eligible for probation, or one of other the Alternatives to Incarceration Programs in Erie County. For answers and advice specific to your particular circumstances, you may wish to consider contacting a local attorney specializing in criminal defense.