Breaking Down the Timeline of a Criminal Case (MISDEMEANOR)


What's a MISDEMEANOR?   Well, there are three different types of crime in New York:  felonies (the worst kind of crime, i.e. murder), misdemeanors (middle of the road crime, i.e. petty theft), and violations (traffic tickets and public order offenses, i.e. disorderly conduct). 

What's the difference?   In a nutshell, where you could go to Jail and whether you get a permanent criminal record.  

For felonies you go to State Prison.  

For misdemeanors you go to County Jail.  

For violations you could go to County Jail. (but will not have a criminal conviction on your record)


1.  Arrest / Charges filed against you

2.  Initial appearance in Court  / Arraignment: 

  • this is where your attorney pleads Not Guilty on your behalf and the clock starts ticking on the prosecutor to be "ready for trial" bring the case against you.  [CPL 30.30]

3.  Discovery Phase

  • this is where your lawyer will make a DEMAND TO PRODUCE and/or REQUEST FOR BILL OF PARTICULARS to the prosecutor to get more information about the case against you. [CPL 240.20] There are many different kinds of discovery requests that can be made by your attorney, but unfortunately in New York, there are significant restrictions on what the prosecutor is required to give the defense.  That's a subject for other articles.  
  • In a perfect world, you are dealing with an ethical prosecutor who turns over all the required (and not required) discovery to your lawyer so that additional motions and potential sanctions against the prosecutor will not have to be filed to protect you from injustice. However, there are motions and other strategies that we employ when dealing with this particular problem that generally yield positive results.

4.  Negotiation with Prosecutor

  • this is the most important part of any case, this is where I can get a sense of how the prosecutor views you (as a danger to society, etc) and views your case.  There is quite a bit of gamesmanship and nuance that goes into these conversations and if your lawyer knows the prosecutor well --this can help you tremendously.  
  • In the negotiation, your lawyer is hoping for a reasonable alternative to bringing your case in front of a jury or judge.  In other words, we are trying to get the best possible GUARANTEE from the prosecutor for our client.  It is always safer to go with a sure thing than risking a jury convicting you of a more serious crime.  [see our page on plea negotiations]  It is an important cost vs. benefit analysis that happens in every case.

5.  Pre-Trial Conference

  • this is an opportunity for the client, defense counsel, prosecutor and judge to all be in the same room and give a sense of where the case is going to the court.  There are many different ways to "skin a cat" and there are many uses for pre-trial conferences.  Sometimes a case is headed toward a suppression hearing or trial, or a client needs more time to complete community service, or a client needs to attend more drug or alcohol counseling, or more discovery needs to be done, etc, etc, etc.  The Pre-Trial Conference is simply a check-in with the Judge to give him or her a heads up about what's going on.  It is also a good opportunity to wrap up a case if a plea deal has been negotiated. 

6.  Motions / Suppression hearing

  • this is the point in the case where trial starts to become a real possibility.  The motions deadline is 45 days from arraignment (although this is often extended for any number of reasons).  Motions and a suppression hearing are an opportunity to conduct a mini-trial and cross-examine the prosecutor's main witnesses (usually police officers).  If you have solid defense points (and do a good job crossing the officer), pushing a case to a suppression hearing can (but not always) result in the prosecutor making a better plea offer than before.  However, on the flip side of the coin, if things do not go well, you have a better understanding of how you would fare in front of a judge or jury --and more information is always good.  

*Be advised that every case is different and there are hundreds of reasons to either have or NOT have a suppression hearing or even draft pre-trial motions.

7.  Motions in Limine (pronounced "Lim-in-nay")

  • these are trial motions made to the judge trying to exclude evidence and are typically made right before a trial begins

8.  Voir Dire (aka choosing a jury)

  • this is the process of selecting a jury.  It is a complicated and artful process that is critical in deciding a case in your favor.

9.  TRIAL  (here's a brief outline of a trial)

  • Opening Statement (defense can wait until start of own case or do one now)
  • Prosecutor's Case (calls witnesses/ defense cross-examines)
  • Defense Case (defense can make opening statement or start calling it's own witnesses, or it doesn't have to call any witnesses)
  • Closing Arguments 
  • Verdict

10.  Sentencing

-this happens either after a plea has been entered or if convicted of a crime by a judge or jury.   In New York, there are very specific sentencing guidelines based on what you are convicted of... the judge has some discretion on fines and jail time etc, but they have limitations on minimum sentences/fines etc.   It's complicated.  That is why it is absolutely critical that you KNOW the possible sentences at the beginning of any case.

  • if required (or requested), the Court can order the Probation Dept. to complete a "Pre-Sentence Investigation."  This is an interview with probation where they give a sentencing recommendation to the court after researching the case.  There are pro's and con's to this process.  It typically adds 4 to 6 weeks to a case in Tompkins County.
  • Ultimately, the judge imposes a sentence (and it is up to your attorney to make sure that it is a legal sentence).  


I hope this outline can help take away some of the mystery of the criminal process and some fear.  It is important to understand what you're facing. We strongly urge you to consult with a local, licensed criminal defense attorney if you are charged with a crime (of any level) or even a violation.  

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