Criminal Law FAQs

What are the categories of crimes in New York?

Crimes in New York are classified into petty offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies according to the severity of punishment associated with the particular crime.

A felony is any serious crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year. Felonies include arson, murder, rape, robbery, burglary, manslaughter, and kidnapping. In addition to imprisonment or death, convicted felons may lose their voting rights, be excluded from certain types of work, be prohibited from holding certain licenses, and be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition.

Misdemeanors: A misdemeanor is an offense that is considered less serious than a felony and that is punishable by fine, penalty, forfeiture or imprisonment for less than one year. Misdemeanor offenses include petty theft, prostitution, disorderly conduct, trespass, and vandalism. Punishment frequently involves probation or community service, and a convicted defendant can lose some of his or her privileges. Petty offenses include traffic violations and infractions of minor ordinances.

How is a criminal record expunged in New York?

A criminal record can severely affect a person’s rights, including the ability to obtain employment, hold a public office, exercise voting rights, enjoy full child custody rights, serve on a jury, or be a member of the military. To escape from that past, the previously convicted person must expunge, or clear, his or her criminal record. Sometimes this is described as “sealing” or “destroying” the records.

New York law permits expungement of arrest records when the charges against the arrested persons are not proved. In addition, a convicted person may be eligible for a certificate of relief from disabilities under New York law, depending upon the nature of his or her conviction.

After this process, the past blemished record of a person will be cleared and the person will be restored to his original position, as if the person had not committed any offense.

What is meant by “ex parte” or “in camera” in New York criminal law proceedings?

Part of the foundation of criminal law is that almost all criminal law cases must be conducted in such a manner that each side has an equal opportunity to present and argue their cases. Sometimes, circumstances force judges to conduct a case ex parte and/or in camera. Ex parte proceedings involve a presentation to the court where only one side is present. Under the concept “good cause severance of counts,” a defendant may convince the court that the defendant has important testimony to offer as to witness on one side while a genuine need exists to refrain from testifying on the other side. To this extent, an oral or written representation must be made before the court.

In camera proceedings, the court often reviews witnesses or evidence either alone or in the presence of the party presenting the witnesses or evidence. The contents of an in camera inquiry usually are sealed, subject to future unsealing for good cause. Courts usually make a transcript of in camera proceedings.

If I refuse to take coordination or breath tests, will I be subject to DUI penalties under New York law?

When a police officer suspects a person of driving his vehicle while intoxicated, the officer police may stop the driver and ask him or her to take a coordination test or undergo a breath sample test to measure the person’s blood alcohol content. Refusal to take coordination or breath test in the state of New York can lead to suspension of the suspect’s driver’s license and can be used against as evidence in a prosecution.

May the police legitimately search a person’s vehicle in New York without a search warrant?

It depends upon the circumstances. A police officer may perform an investigatory stop if he or she has a particularized suspicion that the driver or an occupant has committed or is committing a crime. During the stop, the officer may search the vehicle if his or her observations give him or her probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband.

What are my rights if I am questioned by police?

If you are questioned by police, the extent of your rights depends upon the circumstances under which you are questioned. Regardless of the circumstances, you always have the right to refuse to answer any questions unless your attorney is present. If you are taken into “custody,” the police are required to provide you with a “Miranda warning” that informs you of your constitutional rights to remain silent, to have an attorney present during questioning, and to have an attorney appointed if you cannot afford one. However, even if you are not taken in to custody and read Miranda rights, the police may still question you and anything you say may be used against you in court.