The Distinction between Civil and Criminal Cases
First of all, the main difference between a civil and a criminal case in the state of New York is the following: only the state of New York is allowed to legally prosecute an individual for a criminal case. In contrast, a civil case on the other hand is the result of an individual charging someone of having committed a criminal action.
Criminal Action as Defined by New York State Law
The New York State Law defines a criminal action as being one that “commences with the filing of an accusatory instrument against a defendant in a criminal court”. It can also refer to the “filing of all further accusatory instruments that are derived from the initial one, and all proceedings, orders and motions conducted or made by a criminal court in the course of disposing of any such accusatory instrument”.
Prerequisites for a Criminal Case in New York
In order for a criminal case to proceed in New York, an official police report needs to exist in order to properly document the circumstances that have led to the crime that a NY citizen has allegedly committed. At the end of the analysis of the respective report, one could be charged with an infraction, a felony or a misdemeanor.
Infraction, Misdemeanor, and Felony
Infractions are considered to be the least serious types of charges one could face, as they normally imply the coverage of a fine. Misdemeanors or felonies will most likely imply the issuance of an arrest warrant. The warrant needs to be approved by a sitting judge after he or she is able to identify probable cause. If there is an error, the arrest warrant and all the charges will be dismissed.
Criminal Proceedings Post Arrest
The successful arrest of the suspect will trigger a preliminary hearing. The information concerning the felony that the suspect is accused of will be filed. The NY police will use this information to further investigate the case.
Defendant’s Plea and Subsequent Steps
Next, the defendant will enter his or her plea (guilty or not guilty). This will be done with the help of a lawyer. If the suspect or the defendant enters a “guilty” plea, the sitting judge will also enter his or her judgment, order the sentence and imprison the felon. If the plea entered is that of “not guilty”, then further investigation will be made and both parties will present their information.
Discovery Reform in New York
The most recent changes to the CPL were made in 2021. These changes include amendments to the discovery process, changes to bail reform, and new requirements for police interrogations.
The discovery process is a pre-trial procedure in criminal cases where both the prosecution and defense exchange information and evidence about the case. In New York State, discovery reform repeals and replaces the existing discovery law with a new statute: Article 245 of the Criminal Procedure Law. During the pre-trial phase of the case, the reform mandates a significantly increased level of openness. It specifies the timeframes within which the prosecution and defense must exchange evidence with one another.
- Article 245 of the Criminal Procedure Law, goes into effect on January 1, 2020.
- The reform requires automatic and timely disclosure of evidence by the prosecution to the defense, with a presumption of openness and a list of 21 discoverable materials.
- The reform also imposes reciprocal discovery obligations on the defense, subject to constitutional limitations, and allows for discretionary and protective orders by the court.
Benefits of Discovery Reform
- The reform aims to enhance fairness and transparency in criminal justice, by allowing defendants to make informed decisions about plea offers and trial strategies, and by preventing wrongful convictions and sanctions for non-disclosure.
- The reform may also reduce case processing times and pretrial detention, by facilitating early resolution of cases and avoiding unnecessary delays and litigation over discovery disputes.
Challenges of Discovery Reform
- The reform places new responsibilities and burdens on prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, and courts, who must comply with the discovery requirements and timelines, ensure the preservation and protection of evidence, and find solutions for any disagreements or problems that may keep popping up.
- The reform may also pose risks to the safety and privacy of witnesses, victims, and defendants, who may be exposed to retaliation or harassment if their identities or information are disclosed.