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New York Crimes: Laws & Penalties

New York Crimes: Laws & Penalties

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in New York, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed trying to make sense of the complex criminal justice system. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about New York’s criminal laws and penalties. We’ll cover the different types of crimes, the court process, potential sentences, and offer some practical tips along the way. So take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s dive in.

Understanding New York’s Criminal Laws

First things first, let’s talk about the laws themselves. New York’s criminal laws are primarily found in the New York Penal Law, which defines criminal offenses and specifies the punishments for each crime. Crimes are categorized by severity:

  • Felonies: The most serious crimes, punishable by more than one year in prison. Examples include murder, rape, and grand larceny.
  • Misdemeanors: Less serious offenses, punishable by up to one year in jail. Examples include petit larceny, assault, and DWI.
  • Violations: The least serious offenses, punishable by up to 15 days in jail. Examples include disorderly conduct and trespassing.

It’s important to note that some crimes, known as “wobblers,” can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances and the prosecutor’s discretion. A skilled criminal defense attorney can often negotiate to have felony charges reduced to misdemeanors. 

Federal vs. State Crimes

Most crimes are prosecuted under state law, but some offenses fall under federal jurisdiction. Federal crimes are prosecuted in federal court and include offenses like drug trafficking, mail fraud, and crimes committed on federal property. If you’re facing federal charges, it’s crucial to hire an attorney with experience in federal court. 

The Criminal Court Process in New York

Now that you have a basic understanding of the laws, let’s walk through the typical criminal court process in New York:

  1. Arrest: The process begins with an arrest by law enforcement. After the arrest, you’ll be taken to the police station for booking.
  2. Arraignment: This is your first appearance before a judge, where you’ll be informed of the charges against you and enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest). The judge will also decide whether to release you on your own recognizance, set bail, or hold you in custody.
  3. Preliminary Hearing: In felony cases, a preliminary hearing is held to determine if there’s enough evidence to proceed to trial. The prosecution must present evidence to establish “probable cause” that a crime was committed.
  4. Grand Jury: In some cases, the prosecutor will present evidence to a grand jury, which will decide whether to issue an indictment (formal charges).
  5. Pre-Trial Motions: Your attorney may file motions to suppress evidence, dismiss charges, or request discovery from the prosecution.
  6. Trial: If your case goes to trial, a jury (or sometimes a judge) will hear evidence and decide whether you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You have the right to testify in your own defense, but you’re not required to.
  7. Sentencing: If you’re found guilty, the judge will impose a sentence based on the crime and other factors like your criminal history.

Throughout this process, it’s essential to have an experienced criminal defense attorney fighting for your rights. Your attorney can negotiate with prosecutors, challenge evidence, and work to get the best possible outcome in your case.

Potential Penalties for New York Crimes

So what kind of penalties are we talking about here? It depends on the specific crime and the circumstances, but here’s a general overview:

Christine Twomey
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Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
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Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
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divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.

Felony Sentences

  • Class A-I Felonies: Life in prison (e.g., first-degree murder, terrorism)
  • Class A-II Felonies: 3 to 8 years up to life in prison (e.g., predatory sexual assault)
  • Class B Felonies: 1 to 3 years up to 25 years in prison (e.g., first-degree rape)
  • Class C Felonies: No jail up to 15 years in prison (e.g., second-degree burglary)
  • Class D Felonies: No jail up to 7 years in prison (e.g., second-degree assault)
  • Class E Felonies: No jail up to 4 years in prison (e.g., fourth-degree grand larceny)

Misdemeanor Sentences

  • Class A Misdemeanors: Up to 1 year in jail (e.g., third-degree assault)
  • Class B Misdemeanors: Up to 3 months in jail (e.g., second-degree criminal trespass)
  • Unclassified Misdemeanors: Varies, but generally up to 1 year in jail (e.g., DWI)

In addition to jail or prison time, a judge may impose fines, restitution, community service, or probation. For certain drug or alcohol-related offenses, the judge may order substance abuse treatment5.It’s worth noting that New York has sentencing guidelines that provide a range of sentences for each crime, but judges have discretion within that range. Factors like your criminal history, the severity of the offense, and whether you accept responsibility can all impact your sentence.

Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

Beyond the direct penalties imposed by the court, a criminal conviction can have serious collateral consequences that impact your life for years to come6. For example:

  • Employment: Many employers conduct criminal background checks, and a conviction can make it harder to find a job, especially in fields like healthcare, education, and finance.
  • Housing: Landlords often run background checks, and a criminal record can make it difficult to rent an apartment or qualify for public housing.
  • Education: A conviction can affect your ability to get into college or qualify for financial aid. Students convicted of drug offenses may lose their federal student loans.
  • Immigration: For non-citizens, certain convictions can lead to deportation or make it impossible to obtain citizenship.
  • Gun Rights: Felony convictions and some misdemeanor convictions involving domestic violence result in a loss of gun rights.
  • Professional Licenses: A conviction may disqualify you from holding certain professional licenses, such as a medical, law, or teaching license.

These are just a few examples of how a criminal record can haunt you long after you’ve served your sentence. That’s why it’s so important to fight the charges and work to avoid a conviction if at all possible.

Sealing Criminal Records in New York

Okay, so what if you already have a criminal record? Is there any way to get a fresh start? In some cases, yes. New York allows certain criminal records to be sealed, which means they’re hidden from public view and most background checks7.To be eligible for sealing, you must have no more than two misdemeanor convictions or one felony and one misdemeanor conviction. You also have to wait at least 10 years from the date of your last conviction or release from prison, whichever is later.Not all crimes are eligible for sealing. Sex offenses, violent felonies, and Class A felonies are excluded, among others. But if you qualify, sealing your record can open up opportunities that might otherwise be closed to you.The process of sealing your record involves filing a petition with the court and attending a hearing. It’s a good idea to hire an attorney to help you navigate the process and make the strongest case possible.

Practical Tips for Dealing with Criminal Charges

If you find yourself facing criminal charges in New York, here are some practical tips to keep in mind:

  1. Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent: You have the right to remain silent when questioned by police. Politely decline to answer questions until you have an attorney present.
  2. Hire an Attorney ASAP: Don’t try to navigate the criminal justice system alone. Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and build your defense.
  3. Be Honest with Your Attorney: Your attorney can only help you if you’re completely honest about the facts of your case, even if they’re unflattering. Remember, attorney-client communications are privileged and confidential.
  4. Don’t Discuss Your Case with Anyone Else: Resist the urge to talk about your case with friends, family, or on social media. Anything you say can potentially be used against you.
  5. Show Up to All Court Dates: Missing a court date can result in a bench warrant for your arrest. Make sure you know when you’re required to appear and be there on time.
  6. Follow Your Attorney’s Advice: Your attorney will give you advice based on their experience and knowledge of the law. Trust their judgment and follow their guidance.
  7. Take Care of Yourself: Facing criminal charges is stressful. Make sure you’re taking care of your mental and physical health by getting enough sleep, eating well, and seeking support from loved ones or a therapist if needed.

Remember, being charged with a crime doesn’t make you a bad person. Everyone makes mistakes, and the criminal justice system is supposed to be about rehabilitation as much as punishment. With the right attorney and a commitment to turning your life around, it’s possible to get through this difficult time and come out stronger on the other side.


We covered a lot of ground in this guide, from the basics of New York’s criminal laws to the collateral consequences of a conviction. The key takeaways are:

  1. New York crimes are categorized as felonies, misdemeanors, and violations based on their severity.
  2. The criminal court process involves multiple stages, from arrest to sentencing.
  3. Penalties for crimes range from fines and probation to lengthy prison sentences, depending on the offense.
  4. A criminal conviction can have far-reaching consequences beyond the direct penalties imposed by the court.
  5. Some criminal records may be eligible for sealing after a waiting period.
  6. If you’re facing charges, the most important thing you can do is hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.

Navigating the criminal justice system is never easy, but with the right information and guidance, it’s possible to achieve a positive outcome. If you have more questions about your specific situation, don’t hesitate to consult with a qualified attorney who can give you personalized advice.Thanks for sticking with us through this long read. Hopefully you feel a little more prepared to deal with whatever comes your way. Remember, you’re not alone, and there are people and resources available to help you through this challenging time. Hang in there, and don’t lose hope. Better days are ahead.

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