I have a desk appearance ticket for shoplifting. What is going to happen at this appearance? Also, I think I need a public defender.
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Hello. Sorry to hear that you got into this situation. A "desk appearance" is simply another term for an arraignment, or first appearance in court after a person is arrested.
In New York, when a person is arrested for a misdemeanor or even technically E felony, there are two possible paths to this first appearance. The more traditional or common path is to languish "in the system" for approximately 24 hours as your case is prepared for Court and then to have your arraignment. The desk appearance is a less common alternative where, instead of being held for about 24 hours, you are told to return at some later date for your first appearance. The processing time for this alternative is about 4 hours.
Once you are in Court, the "desk appearance" is indistinguishable from a "regular" arraignment that happens after about 24 hours. It happens in the same Courthouse and is no longer any different from any other case.
So what happens at the arraignment? The arraignment, or first appearance, is an important, but simple and often brief appearance before a judge. Essentially two primary purposes exist for this brief appearance.
The first primary purpose is to make sure that you are formally aware of exactly what the charges are. Right now, you have a document generated by the police with a statement of what one of the charges against you is. Realize that in any criminal case there are often multiple charges associated with a single arrest. For example, your DAT may indicate that you are charged with Petit larceny or it may indicate that you are charged with Criminal Possession of Stolen Property. Ultimately you may be charged with both, but you won't find out precisely until your arraignment. That's where your lawyer will be handed the criminal court complaint, which is the official charging document from the prosecutor. You should realize that when the police make an arrest, they are essentially RECOMMENDING to the prosecutor's office that you be charged with something. Now often the police are dead on right about what the appropriate charges should be, but not always. Sometimes, prosecutors decide to charge less serious offenses, and sometimes, they decide to charge more serious offenses. More often than not, they follow the police recommendations, however, but it is technically the job of the prosecutor's office to make the charging decision. That final charging decision takes the form of the criminal court complaint. Your lawyer will get this document at the arraignment and review it with you.
The second primary purpose at the arraignment is the bail decision by the judge. A judge at an arraignment, even a DAT arraignment, must decide whether you are likely to return to court simply on your promise that you will, or whether he or she thinks that bail must be set on you in order to convince you to return as required.
Now before you start to get too worried, you should know that the simple fact that you appeared on the date required by your desk appearance ticket, is probably all that will be required to all but guarantee that bail will not be an issue for you. This is not so much true in Nassau County where I have watched judges on a shockingly frequent basis actually set bail on people who have provided firm evidence of their ability to return to court as required...by returning to Court. But the vast likelihood is that bail on a desk appearance ticket is pretty close to a non-issue.
Since you say you need a public defender you should also be prepared to document the fact that you meet Federal poverty guidelines in order to be assigned one of their lawyers. Public defenders have a mandate to represent only those who meet those guidelines and they are vigilant about ensuring that their services are used only by those in need.
It is also possible that some limited negotiations may take place.