If your friend or loved one has just been arrested for a state-level crime in Manhattan, you are unlikely to be able to see him again before his arraignment at 100 Centre Street. Typically, a person arrested for a crime spends a few hours (though this number can vary wildly) at a police precinct while the arresting officer fingerprints him and processes his arrest paperwork. The arrested person might also be interviewed by a police officer or detective at the precinct. Once that initial paperwork processing is completed, the prisoner is eventually transported (one way or another) to Central Booking, a holding area for prisoners in the basement of 100 Centre Street. There they wait while prosecutors communicate with the arresting officers to learn about the facts of the arrest and decide what charges to bring against the prisoners. Based on the information they get during these phone calls with the arresting officers, the prosecutors draft accusatory documents – called complaints – that are usually signed via fax by the arresting officers. These complaints are then combined with other documents – most notably, the “rap sheets” for the prisoners – and are sent downstairs to the courtroom. It typically takes four hours just for the “rap sheets” to be processed, as it requires that the fingerprints for the prisoners be sent to the central fingerprint database in Albany for comparison to previous cases and convictions on file.
All in all, an accused person can typically expect to have to wait about 24 hours for their arraignment in Manhattan. This waiting period depends on a number of factors outside of the defense attorney’s control, including, for example, the number of people arrested that day (weekends are usually worse). Accused persons with medical problems may also have to be taken to Bellevue Hospital for a lengthy examination before they can be arraigned, too. We find, however, that an accused that has a private attorney awaiting him at arraignments typically gets arraigned a bit faster than he otherwise would have been had he chosen to use the public defender in the courtroom.
At arraignment, a defendant and his attorney are given a copy of the complaint describing the criminal charges against the defendant. The defendant appears in the arraignment courtroom before a judge with his attorney present. (An interpreter is also provided in cases in which the defendant does not understand English.) The judge also receives a copy of the complaint, as well as the defendant’s “rap sheet,” or criminal record. A court officer reads aloud the charges and a prosecutor speaks. Typically, he gives a brief recitation of the facts of what they allege transpired, and then in some misdemeanor cases, make a plea bargain offer or a recommendation for a sentence on a potential guilty plea by the defendant. In some cases, the prosecutor also requests bail and gives reasons justifying the amount that he has requested. The defense attorney then has an opportunity to respond to the allegations, accept or reject any plea bargain offers, and if necessary, explain why bail is unnecessary to ensure that the prisoner returns for his next court appearance.
For these latter reasons (plea bargains and bail), it is strongly recommended that you speak to and or hire a criminal defense attorney in advance of this arraignment. The criminal defense attorney can go and speak to your friend or family member while he awaits his arraignment in Central Booking, whereas non-attorneys are not allowed access to the prisoner at this time. More importantly, the defense attorney can speak to the prosecutor in advance of the arraignment to determine whether the prosecutor will be making any plea bargain offers or bail requests. Thus, the defense attorney can discuss these possibilities with the accused person in Central Booking or in a booth at length and in advance of the arraignment. Moreover, if bail is going to be requested, the defense attorney can work with the accused person’s friends and families to make arrangements to get the likely bail money squared away prior to the arraignment, so as to expedite the prisoner’s release from prison. If bail money is not in hand at the moment of arraignments, the prisoner that has bail set at his arraignment can typically expect to be sent back to Riker’s Island afterwards, meaning that he will likely be in custody for at least another 12 hours before his release. In short, it is a very good idea for the family and friends of an accused to come to court for that person’s arraignment with bail money in hand, if possible.
Some cases are resolved at arraignment with guilty pleas. Most, however, proceed to the next stage. For a more thorough explanation of what happens next, click here.