Criminal defense trial offices, located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island comprise the largest component of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society. During the course of the last year, criminal defense trial office attorneys, supervisors, social workers, paralegals, interpreters/translators, investigators and support and administrative staff handled more than 230,000 criminal trial level cases.
Since the early 1900s, The Legal Aid Society has been in the forefront of criminal defense representation. The Criminal Practice has played a leading role in affecting significant changes in the law. The landmark arrest to arraignment case, People ex rel. Maxian on behalf of Roundtree v. Brown, challenged the protracted delays newly arrested persons experienced prior to being arraigned and brought about significant improvements in the criminal justice system by setting a 24-hour standard for arrest to arraignment.
Cases handled in the criminal defense trial offices range in seriousness from disorderly conduct to first degree murder. Under a system of continuity of representation, the same lawyer represents a client from the initial Criminal Court arraignment to trial court disposition. While the atmosphere in the trial offices is informal, with a diversity of styles and personalities, there is an intense devotion to the shared mission of equal justice.
Attorneys are grouped into small teams, called complexes or clusters, of 15 to 30 trial lawyers headed by two to three supervisory attorneys and supported by a staff of social workers, paralegals, interpreters/ translators, investigators and support and administrative staff. Many of the cases require a strictly legal approach, but, employing a holistic approach, staff members evaluate client needs to determine what services are necessary to help the clients eliminate conditions that may lead to criminal charges.
A Special Litigation Unit, an Adolescent Intervention and Diversion Project, an Enhanced-Defense MICA Unit for mentally ill, chemically addicted clients and the Manhattan Arraignment Diversion Program (MAP) enhance client services. Specific client services are addressed by the Defender Services Program, the Rikers Island Paralegal Program, the Paralegal Program, and the Investigator Program.
To be eligible for representation, clients must be financially unable to retain counsel, and subject to criminal charges in the State or City Criminal Courts in the Bronx, Kings, New York or Queens Counties. Most clients in the Criminal Practice are assigned to Legal Aid by the courts at arraignment, the first court appearance following arrest.
Criminal Practice staff also represents current clients in administrative and civil proceedings related to their criminal cases, including school suspension hearings, property forfeiture proceedings, sex offender classification hearings, and probation or parole revocation proceedings. Staff also provides legal advice and representation to members of the public who have not been arrested but need legal help on criminal matters, such as surrendering on an arrest warrant, appearing in a police-arranged line-up, responding to a court subpoena, or answering questions during a police investigation. People who need such help should contact the Criminal Defense office in the county in which they need assistance.