We hear from people who have been given DATs in New York City virtually every day. One of the most common topics of conversation is the legal advice provided by the police who arrested them.

Almost as if it were a policy of the NYPD, people who are given DATs are almost always advised, among other things, that "you don't need a lawyer" because the case will probably "just be dismissed".

This sort of legal advice from the NYPD borders on the unauthorized practice of law itself or at least suggests an appalling lack of understanding of the criminal justice system from those who are supposed to be a part of it.

This legal advice from the NYPD to those they arrest often fails to consider possible important collateral consequences to certain types of seemingly good resolutions (like job and immigration implications) and often fails to consider other potential legal complications of the criminal case itself.

Here is a handy rule of thumb when dealing with the police officer who is arresting you, putting you in handcuffs, and charging you with a crime: THE POLICE OFFICER IS NOT YOUR LAWYER AND YOU SHOULD NOT ACCEPT LEGAL ADVICE FROM THE PERSON WHO IS ARRESTING YOU.

The question is not whether or not you need a lawyer. That question has been answered by the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution. If you are charged with a crime, you MUST have a lawyer. The default position of the United States Constitution is that a person charged with a crime must have a lawyer. Period.

Many people have died in foreign lands to allow us to continue to enjoy many important rights, like the right to be represented by a lawyer when the Government charges us with a crime.  People so often claim that America is great because of the freedom we enjoy.  How easily people are persuaded, however, by the very person who is arresting them and taking away their freedom, to forget about one of the most basic of our freedoms.

Therefore, the real issue is whether the Government will be required to provide a lawyer for you, or whether you will be required to hire your own lawyer.

A landmark United States Supreme Court case called Gideon v. Wainwright, established the principle that the Government must provide a lawyer for someone it accuses of a crime IF THE PERSON IS INDIGENT.

In New York City, the organization that handles most of these indigent cases is The Legal Aid Society. The Legal Aid Society gets funding from the Government to represent indigent people. The Legal Aid Society is not in the business of representing people who are not indigent (who do not meet federal poverty guidelines).

Therefore, if you take the police officer's advice and show up to DATs on the first date expecting that The Legal Aid Society will just agree to represent you because "it is only a DAT" you will be mistaken.

The Legal Aid Society lawyers are obligated to screen every person for eligibility before agreeing to represent anyone. This is part of their mandate and fundamentally relates to the Gideon case that is the source of their existence as public defenders.  You will be interviewed about your financial situation and in some close cases, you may be asked to provide records, such as tax records or pay stubs.

If the Legal Aid Society lawyer determines that you do not meet Federal Poverty Guidelines, then the Legal Aid Society is required to decline to represent you and is obligated to alert the judge that you should be required to retain your own lawyer.  Judges in New York City are all scrupulously diligent about ensuring that that the Legal Aid Society (and other indigent providers) only represent people who are actually indigent.

The Legal Aid Society (and other indigent provider) lawyers are an extremely dedicated, idealistic group of lawyers whose job is to represent the indigent in accord with the great case of Gideon v. Wainwright. Speaking from the experience of having been a trial lawyer for The Legal Aid Society, I can tell you that they have plenty of work to do keeping up with cases of indigent people accused of crimes, and are therefore quite vigilant themselves about eligibility issues.  They bridle at the notion that they are present in Court to represent people who are not indigent.  They are fiercely proud of their position as constitutional defenders of those who cannot afford to defend themselves.

Despite what the police officer is telling you, it would be absolutely absurd to imagine that a lawyer who has dedicated her career to representing the poor, whose funding is based on representing the poor, who is going to be quite busy with plenty of cases representing the poor, is simply going to take on (for extra work) the representation of people who do not meet their eligibility criteria.

In addition, Judges are quite sensitive to the issue of eligibility for the services of Government paid lawyers. Just as it is not in the interest of the Legal Aid Society lawyers to take on extra work representing people who do not meet their eligibility guidelines, Judges are ever vigilant to make sure that Government money meant for the legal services to be provided to the poor is not spent on providing legal services to people who don't meet federal poverty guidelines.

This is especially true in these times when everyone is sensitive to wasteful government spending. How could the Government possibly justify spending money on providing criminal defense legal services to people who do not qualify under current Government standards for those services?

And so Judges make sure that each and every case that the Legal Aid Society seeks to represent is one where the services are justified. In some cases, Judges may even make their own inquiry about eligibility in addition to the screening conducted by the Legal Aid Society lawyer.

Therefore, do not necessarily accept the legal advice of the police officer who arrested you for a Desk Appearance Ticket. But unless you think you will meet Federal Poverty guidelines, it will make sense for you to begin planning on seeking legal services from a private lawyer before your first appearance.

There are many wonderful lawyers in New York City who can help with a Desk Appearance Ticket. You can take advantage of the time you have before your appearance to seek out the assistance of the lawyer who you most feel comfortable with handling your case.

If you have been given a desk appearance ticket in New York, you can find a great deal of information right here. Whether you want to know about the procedures, about the sorts of offenses that might be charged, the sorts of outcomes possible, or even whether you ought to hire a lawyer, you will find help in this site.

If you want more information, or want to schedule a free appointment with us to review your case and discuss possible strategies, please do not hesitate to call us at 718-268-2171.


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.