The big picture of the DWI criminal case in New York


You may be wondering about the process which occurs after your arrest. We have created this page to help you understand the “Big Picture”.


Your arrest was the first formal step in the criminal DWI process.

An arrest may be made in New York State by a law enforcement official with probable cause to believe, "reason to believe", that the person to be charged has committed a crime. Maybe you were initially stopped for a motor vehicle infraction like speeding, making an improper lane change, or failing to use a turn signal. Your arrest supposedly happened after the officer felt he had seen enough of your performance and behavior after the stop to have probable cause to arrest you for DWI.

What happens after a DWI arrest in New York?


A motorist accused of DWI is first arrested, then "booked" into the criminal justice system and held in custody until all or most of the police officer's required arrest paperwork is completed.  At this point, some police agencies may even set preliminary bail, which must be paid before the motorist is released from custody.  Shortly before a motorist is released, a court date will be set and the police will usually provide one or more pieces of paper commanding the motorist to appear in court at a certain place and time to be "arraigned."

For arrests in Tompkins County, you will most likely be given a summons to return to court within 30 days.  It is in your best interest to retain an attorney by then.

If you have no prior warrant record and strong ties to the community you may be released without bail. The judge is releasing you under what is termed “ROR” (released on your own recognizance). The judge can also decide to release you “RUS” (release under supervision of the probation department) if he feels you are in need of monitoring. The arraignment is primarily to advise you of your rights and enter a plea of not guilty.

If you have an attorney, he will advise you.  It is important to NOT resolve a case at arraignment because you may be unaware of the impact a guilty plea can have until you have spoken, at length, with an experienced DWI attorney.

Filing of the Criminal Case

Once the police believe that their investigation is complete, they will send their arrest report and evidence in the case to the District Attorney of the county in which they made the arrest. This usually consists of their arrest report and the results from your breath test.

At this point, an attorney from the district attorney's office will review the report. In general, it is just a VERY cursory review of the report. Over 99% of the time, the DA will accept the case for prosecution. (This is the process for a misdemeanor. In a felony case, a grand jury must review the case before presenting an indictment.)

Pre-trial Conference:

This is usually the first court date after your arraignment.  At this meeting your attorney will discuss your case with the Assistant District Attorney and the judge. He will negotiate the best possible plea bargain, if this is what you want. It will usually happen about four weeks after arraignment. The date is set by the Court and your attorney on his calendar.

Suppression Hearings:

The Court may suppress some or all of the evidence against you if your

constitutional rights have been violated.  In New York State, your attorney must file within 45 days of the arraignment all motions to suppress evidence and demand hearings as to probable cause of the officer’s stop of your vehicle, your arrest for DWI, the voluntariness of any of your statements that can be used against you, and the constitutionality of any warnings given by the police. A hearing on any of these motions can occur anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months after the pre-trial conference.


Almost always, a Misdemeanor DWI trial is to a jury of six people. The trial 

must be held within a three month period after your plea of not guilty, excluding motion practice and other certain adjournments.  However, this timeline is usually longer for various reasons.


The Court imposes a sentence after a conviction at trial or after a plea bargain is accepted and a plea entered. Sentences may include jail time, probation, DDP (Drunk Driving Program), drug and alcohol treatment, public service, VIP (Victim Impact Panel), alcohol classes, Court surcharges, and fines. In addition, your attorney could request that a PSI (Pre-Sentence Investigation Report) be done by the probation department prior to sentencing. Often, the probation department’s recommendation is given favorable consideration by the judge before sentence is pronounced. These PSIs are mandatory for Felonies, but are optional for misdemeanors.

Pre-Trial Conference Dates:

Depending on the court, there will be 3, 4, or more adjournments, plea meetings, or pre-trial dates. In general, these are all the same thing, despite the different names.

No matter what they are called, these adjournments are simply court meetings, where an attorney has the opportunity to visit with the prosecutor and learn more about your case. Often during these conferences the attorney representing you will speak with the District Attorney handling your case, and have an opportunity to review police documents.

We personally represent our clients at these court conferences. You may or may not have to attend these meetings. In general, you do nothing at these hearings except to show up and prove you haven't left the country.


If you have decided to plead "not guilty," you will have a trial for the finder of fact to determine whether or not you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The finder of fact with either be a jury or a judge (bench trial).

The jury trial will start with voir dire. This is jury selection. It is the attorney's opportunity to talk with the potential jurors about their thoughts and beliefs. In a misdemeanor DWI cases, the judge brings in about 25 people. From them, 6 jurors will be selected to sit on your case.

After opening statements, the state will put on their case. They may call as many witnesses as they wish, but in general will only have a few. Any officers on the scene, anyone working the breath test machine, any possible witnesses to your driving, and possibly the "Technical Supervisor" of the breath test machine will be called to testify against you.

After the state's case, we may or may not call any witnesses. You will have the opportunity to testify if you wish, but do not need to do so (and may not be in your best interest). If you do not testify, the jury will be instructed not to hold that fact against you in your case.

Punishment Phase:

If you are found guilty by a judge or a jury, the case will proceed on to a punishment phase. During this phase, called sentencing, the state may bring up any prior bad acts or history. Before the trial begins, we must decide if it will be the judge or the jury to assess punishment. Each case is different, and this is something we will discuss before your trial begins. Most people have the judge assess punishment in their case, as they see many of these cases, and understand the severity (or non-severity) of the cases.

If you are charged with a DWI or a crime, call us:  607-229-5184.

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Mr. Cyr made it possible for me to be able to continue on with my future without a criminal charge.
— Faith