Getting a Desk Appearance Ticket in New York City When You are not From New York City
New York City is obviously a popular tourist destination, known the world over. Inevitably, then, circumstances will arise when people who are visiting here just a short time, end up in conflict with the law. Whether it is because of a peculiar rule or unexpected application of the rules, or whether it is at the hands of someone making false allegations, or whatever the reason, it is bound to happen from time to time.
What County is Your Desk Appearance Ticket to be Heard?
People from out of town are frequently unfamiliar with the fact that New York City is actually broken down into five "counties". New York City, confusingly enough, is a short hand way of describing the island of Manhattan, but it also describes the five counties, also called "Boroughs" that make up a much larger area than just the famous island of Manhattan.
Within these "counties" or boroughs, there are sometimes two possible locations where your Desk Appearance Ticket can be heard. Let's review:
Manhattan (Also New York County or Borough of New York)
The island of Manhattan is "New York County" or the Borough of New York. Often people associate New York City with Manhattan, but there is more to New York City than just the island of Manhattan. If you have a Desk Appearance Ticket that is sending you to Court at 100 Centre Street or "Midtown Community Court" at 314 West 54th Street, then you have a DAT in "New York" County or the "Borough" of New York.
Is there A Difference between 100 Centre Street and Midtown?
Well, sort of. Midtown Community Court is a very small Courthouse designed to address misdemeanor only offenses like most DATs. There are small differences in approach there at Midtown, but by and large you can expect the same sort of ballpark treatment of similar cases. Midtown Court is fond of counseling and community service, perhaps a bit more than 100 Centre Street, but even that may be debatable.
Brooklyn (Kings County, or Borough of Kings)
Over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan is, well Brooklyn. If you got a DAT related to something occurring in or around the Barclay Center for example, then your case is scheduled in Brooklyn. Brooklyn also has two possible locations where your Desk Appearance Ticket could be heard. The most likely location is 120 Schermerhorn Street. That will be where most Brooklyn DATs will be heard. But also possible is friendly little Red Hook Community Court, located a bit off the beaten path in Red Hook. Like Midtown Community Court, Red Hook Community is designed to handle misdemeanor cases and is fond of counseling and community service.
Queens (Queens County, or Borough of Queens)
If you got a Desk Appearance Ticket arising out of some set of circumstances at a Mets game, or at the US Open, or say in Astoria, Woodside, Bayside, or Long Island City, among others, then your case is a Queens County case. In Queens, you will be sent to just one Courthouse, on Queens Blvd.
Bronx (Bronx County, or Borough of Bronx)
If you got a Desk Appearance Ticket arising out of an incident at Yankee Stadium, for example, then your DAT will be sending you to Bronx County Criminal Court. DATs are heard at the OLD Criminal Court building (right down the road from Yankee Stadium). There is a brand new Criminal Court building next door that is all shiny and glass, but they still handle DATs next door in the recently renovated interior of the old building.
Staten Island (Richmond County, or County of Richmond)
If you took the Staten Island ferry over to Staten Island for a look around or were visiting Staten Island when you got your Desk Appearance Ticket, then it is Staten Island where your case will be heard, right there in the old Court building on Targee Street.
Desk Appearance Ticket Saved you From "The System" but your court date is WHEN?
Initially, the police may act as if they are doing you a great favor by giving you the Desk Appearance Ticket. After all, the alternative to giving an out of towner a desk appearance ticket is to force him to "go through the system." Going through the system is a nightmare that will take upwards of 24 hours in jail before seeing the judge. Who wants that, right?
Well, you get the DAT, and the police officer may well have honestly believed he was doing you a favor, but then you see the date of your court appearance. Generally, this will be about a month in the future. If your travel plans included staying in New York City for a month, then no big deal. The problem is that most people don't have those sorts of travel plans.
The Officer Told You to Just Go to Court and Change It
So when you see that your DAT is scheduled for a month later, and you bring this to the attention of the police officer, he told you "no problem" right? Just go down to Court the next day and change it. Sorry. That's not likely to work. Here's an example where the police officer is giving you information that he must absolutely know is false. Alas the world isn't always a perfect place.
First of all, the Court knows nothing about your DAT. When you get the DAT, the only people who know about it are you and the police department (and maybe eventually the prosecutor's office). The Court doesn't really control the court date for the DAT, or does so in an indirect sort of way.
You need to be able to track down the appropriate person in the District Attorney's Office and then that person has to agree to assist you. I actually ran across a client from Florida, a wonderfully nice elderly woman from Florida who managed to find her way into the Courthouse and managed to find her way into the right Courtroom, and who happened to encounter the appropriate person from the DA's office by pure chance in the Courtroom. My client was so engaging and charming that the person from the DA's office actually did what was necessary to change her date. Most people are not so lucky. It is frequently the case that the DA's office will not deal directly with people under these circumstances.
Typically You Need to Engage a Lawyer to Change the Date
In most cases you will need to engage a lawyer to deal with the District Attorney in order to change the date for a DAT for someone from out of state.
But then you run into another problem.
If you are leaving New York City within a few days it won't matter. There will be no way for the case to be prepared in such a short period of time, or at least it isn't terribly likely. You are up against a lot of inertia here.
So Then What?
One alternative is to go ahead and go home, but engage a lawyer to make the appearance for you, as is allowed by law, and hope that your lawyer will be able to resolve the matter in your absence as well. In an ideal world, this is possible, and in fact we have accomplished this on many occasions for our out of state (and international) clients.
It can be a little tricky and does involve some risk. Here is why.
First, although the law allows a lawyer to appear for you on the DAT first appearance, it has to be for "good cause" that the Judge thinks is good cause. The problem is that you can't know that the judge will find good cause until you are in front of the judge. Therefore, if your lawyer appears, and the judge finds no good cause, the judge can issue a warrant. That isn't great.
The good news is that in practical terms, for most DAT type cases, this isn't going to be a big problem. Also, even when it is a problem, the judge isn't required to issue a full warrant. The judge could simply say, "Have your client here on date ----". In fact, in the one or two instances where we have had judges reject our appearance request, in all cases the Judges just gave us a new date. Sure it would have been nicer not to have been required to make a special trip to New York City to deal with this DAT case, but at least you would have had a crack at having your lawyer deal with it for you. In fact, in the overwhelming majority of DAT cases where we have appeared for out of state clients, judges are just fine with it.
In an all out apocalyptic situation where a judge issues a warrant, this is not necessarily the end of the universe either. SEAL Team 6 will not be immediately dispatched to come get you. In fact, you can simply make your way back to New York City as soon as possible and come to Court and all would likely be just fine.
Settlement in Your Absence
A Second issue aside from making the first appearance for you, is the ability of your lawyer to settle the case entirely so that you don't ever have to come back to New York City, except of course to visit and have fun.
Most of the sorts of cases that find their way on to Desk Appearance Tickets are the sorts of cases that are sufficiently routine that judges and prosecutors are often willing to permit settlements by counsel. We have handled innumerable cases where we have resolved simple DAT matters entirely in the absence of our out of state clients.
There is Hope
So if you are fretting about the hassle and expense of having to return to New York City from out of state for the purpose of making appearances on your Desk Appearance Ticket, there is hope for you. It is not without a small amount of risk, but as long as you are receiving advice from an experienced criminal defense lawyer who handles Desk Appearance Tickets in New York City, then you will likely be just fine.
Give us a call and we can help you or the person you care about.
BY: DON A. MURRAY, ESQ.
Don Murray is one of the founding partners of Shalley & Murray, a New York criminal defense law firm with offices in New York City and Westchester County. Mr. Murray is a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He has been practicing criminal defense in New York for more than 20 years. Any questions or comments about this article or seeking representation on a Desk Appearance Ticket can be directed to him directly at 718-268-2171.