Browse F.A.Q. Topics
How do I get property back from the police?All property seized by the police during an arrest is "vouchered" under a unique identifying number. Some of these items are held for safekeeping and can be returned by going to the precinct or police headquarters at One Police Plaza and producing the voucher receipt and photo identification. Some items, however, require special permission from the prosecutor before they are returned. An attorney's assistance is usually required in these situations in order to negotiate a "District Attorney's Release" for these items. Some items are held for civil forfeiture proceedings and can only be returned by going through a litigation procedure. This happens in instances where the items in question are viewed as the instrumentalities or the fruits of criminal activity (e.g. cash in drug cases, vehicles in DWI cases).
What happens if I get arrested for DWI?New York State has some of the toughest DWI laws in the nation. Even a first time offender faces harsh consequences including a revocation of your driver’s license for six months, fines up to $1,000, mandated participation in various rehabilitation programs, costly installation of an “ignition interlock” device on your vehicle, probation, and even jail time in some cases. In New York City, the NYPD can even take your vehicle and forfeit it under the theory that your vehicle is the “instrumentality of a crime." If you have been charged with DWI, you must be represented by an attorney with specialized knowledge in this area of law, in order to have a fighting chance.
If I’m guilty, what can my lawyer do for me?An attorney has the duty to strongly represent his client regardless of his or her guilt. There are many ways that an attorney can help his client even though he is “guilty." For example, he can argue that the police obtained a confession or other evidence through illegal means, and get it thrown out. He can negotiate a plea bargain which would not leave criminal record or significantly reduce jail time. If a plea bargain is unacceptable, an attorney can tell his client his chances of success or failure at trial, so that the client can make an informed decision. And in the worst case scenario of incarceration, an attorney can present all available options for early release.
Will I have a criminal record forever?In New York State, a conviction of a crime leaves a permanent criminal record which cannot be “expunged” like in some states. Therefore, it is crucial to obtain a result in the case which does not leave a criminal record in the first place. Some examples of such results include “ACD” (Adjournment Contemplating Dismissal) and “violations” which are not crimes. However, in some limited circumstances, a criminal conviction can be overturned by filing an appeal or a motion to vacate. For example, a defendant who was not advised about the consequences of a conviction on his or her immigration status has potential grounds for a motion to vacate.
The victim doesn’t want to press charges, but why did I get arrested?This is a very commonly asked question, especially in domestic violence cases where a family member makes a police report and then wants to retract it. In order to understand this, one must understand the difference between a criminal and civil case. A civil case is brought by an individual against another individual. Therefore, a plaintiff (the person who started the lawsuit) can end it at anytime by “dropping” the allegations. In a criminal case however, the “plaintiff” is actually not the victim. It is the “People of the State of New York." Therefore, once a complaint has been filed, it is ultimately up to the “People” (represented by the prosecutor) to press forward with the charges or drop them. That being said, a victim’s wish that the charges be dropped is usually respected, but not always followed, especially when injuries are severe or when there is indication that the victim is being intimidated into dropping the charges.
What is the difference between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?The biggest difference is that a felony charge carries a higher potential jail term. Just as important though, are the “collateral consequences” of a felony conviction. For example, a felony conviction would affect one’s eligibility to vote, government benefits, and eligibility for certain types of jobs. In addition, having a felony on one's record will result in harsher mandatory sentences on future criminal charges. However, a misdemeanor conviction also gives one a criminal record, and therefore must be avoided whenever possible.
What is plea bargaining?Plea bargaining is the process in which the prosecution and defense reach an agreement to lower the criminal charge and penalties, in exchange for a “plea” from the defendant. A “plea” usually involves some admission of guilt from the defendant, but not always. Plea bargaining is an art, not an exact science. A defense attorney must be able to make a skillful argument to the prosecutor or judge in order to gain a favorable plea bargain, taking into account his client’s unique circumstances. A good defense attorney must also have the knowledge and experience to recognize what is a fair plea bargain and what isn’t. He must also be ready to reject an unfair plea bargain and fight the case.
I’ve been arrested and I’m not a US citizen. Will immigration find out?In most cases, yes. If you are not a citizen, you must be extremely careful about how your criminal charges are handled, no matter how minor them seem. Failure to do so can lead to deportation, inadmissibility, and loss of eligibility for a green card or citizenship. The U.S. government has been especially unforgiving in recent years, deporting a record number of immigrants charged with even minor, non-violent crimes. If you find yourself in this situation, you must get advice on immigration law as well as criminal law. We are one of the few firms that can provide comprehensive representation in both areas.
The court already assigned me a legal aid attorney, why do I need to hire a lawyer?Public defenders sometimes get an undeserved “bad rap” because people assume that since they work for “free," they couldn’t be any good. In fact, most public defenders are talented and capable attorneys who are extremely dedicated to their cause. However, almost every single public defender would agree that because of their heavy caseload, they simply cannot devote the amount of time and attention to each individual case that they would like. Each public defender routinely handles hundreds of cases at once, which means that even if they worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they simply could not devote the time and and attention that each case deserves. Oftentimes they cannot even remember all of their clients’ names. Another drawback is that public defenders work in “shifts," meaning that if you had 4 court appearances for your case, you might meet a different attorney for each appearance. At Lee Law Firm, we purposely keep our caseload small, which means that we have more time to meet with the client, track down witnesses, and conduct in depth legal research.
Can you guarantee a result?Any criminal defense who promises that he or she can guarantee a dismissal is simply not trustworthy. No two cases are exactly alike, and the end result will depend on many factors such as the strength of the prosecution’s evidence, the willingness of complaining witnesses to cooperate, and the particular prosecutor or judge that is assigned to the case. A good attorney will never guarantee a result. Instead, a good attorney is able to tell the client that based on his experience on similar cases, certain results are likely. At Lee Law Firm, we strongly believe that honesty with the client about the range of possible outcomes at the outset of the case is not only the ethically right thing to do, it is the absolute key to building trust with the client.
If I’m innocent, I don’t need to worry.If you have been wrongfully accused, you cannot simply sit back and assume that the system will protect your rights and prove you innocent. In fact, a wrongfully accused person needs especially vigorous representation by an experienced attorney, who can contest the false or mistaken allegations made by “victims," witnesses and police officers. A good attorney not only knows the law, but has strong investigative skills necessary to obtain key evidence such as surveillance videos, witness statements and Metrocard records, which can sometimes be impossible to get unless they are retrieved right away. A good attorney also knows how to fight the case on the “law," such as arguing that someone has been overcharged with Assault in the 1st Degree, when the appropriate charge is Assault in the 3rd Degree.
If I stayed in the US illegally, can I still get a green card or a visa?This answer to this question depends on many different factors. The first factor is the manner of entry in the U.S. Some people enter the U.S. legally with a visa, and then stay beyond the date permitted by the visa ("Overstay"). Some people entered the country without being inspected at all ("Entry Without Inspection"). And some others entered without a visa because they are from a country that participates in the "Visa Waiver Program." Another factor is how long the client has lived in the U.S. in unlawful status. Also, it depends on who is sponsoring the client for the green card. Yet another factor is whether the client has a history of immigration violations. As you can see, this is a very complex area of immigration law, and the answer depends on each person's unique circumstances. The only way to find out for sure if you are eligible for a visa or green card is by consulting with an experienced immigration attorney.
What is immigration reform and how will it affect me?As of 2014, there an estimated 11 million "Undocumented Aliens" in the United States. Many of these people have called the U.S. home for a long time, work hard, pay taxes, and even have children who are U.S. born citizens. But their lack of papers means that they live in a state of constant fear of deportation and live without access to many essential services.
The U.S. government agrees that something must be done about this situation, but there is strong, bitter disagreement among the the different political parties about exactly what the changes should be. Some of the proposed changes are: increased border security, a bigger visa quota for skilled workers, streamlining the visa process, and a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens. This path to citizenship has been the most controversial of all, and continues to delay the reform that is badly needed.
There are many undocumented people who are anxiously waiting for reform, since the existing law does not allow them to gain lawful status. However, there are also many clients who mistakenly believe that there is no hope for them, when in fact there is some exception in the law that allows them to get lawful status NOW, without waiting for any reform. If you are uncertain at all about your situation, you should speak with an immigration attorney as soon as possible to explore all of your options.
What is Deferred Action?Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA") is an executive order put into place by President Obama in June 2012. It gives work permits to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age, and provides a guarantee that they will not be deported.
According to USCIS, you may be eligible if you meet the below guidelines:
- Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
- Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
- Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
- Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
- Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
- Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
- Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
How do I become a US Citizen?A person can be a U.S. citizen by birth, or by naturalization. Any person born on U.S. soil, regardless of the parents’ immigration status, are automatically U.S. citizens, and persons born to U.S. citizen parents abroad are a naturalized citizen by holding a green card for five years and then applying for citizenship. This five year waiting period can be shorter or longer depending on the case. All candidates for U.S. citizenship must show proficiency in the English language, pass a civics test, and swear an oath of allegiance to the United States.
How do I obtain a green card?There are several ways to get a “green card” (formally known as Lawful Permanent Resident status). If any of the below statements apply to you, then you may be eligible:
- I have a relative (spouse, parent, child, sibling) who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder.
- I have a job offer from a U.S. company who is willing to sponsor me.
- I am from a country that is eligible under the “green card lottery."
- I am willing to invest at least $500,000 in a U.S. business.
If I am unhappy with my current attorney, can I hire a new one?Aside from helping a client recover monetary damages for a wrong committed against them, a personal injury attorney has to work hand in hand with the client throughout the case. An attorney who is unresponsive, unavailable or uninterested in working and talking with his clients throughout the entire case is also an attorney that will probably do damage to the client’s case. It is absolutely necessary that a client is satisfied with their attorney for the case to have a chance of success. If there is a barrier between the attorney and the client, then there is a barrier between the client and a successful outcome in his or her case. As such, you can absolutely switch attorneys, and you will not incur any costs on your case.
How much money can I get for my case?Some personal injury cases can be worth millions of dollars, and some can be worth substantially less. What makes a case valuable depends on many factors, and determining the value of your case will require a consultation with an attorney as soon as possible after the accident to make sure that your right to recovery is protected. Delays can potentially cost you millions of dollars.
What is the deadline to start a lawsuit?The deadline to start a typically personal injury claim against a private defendant is usually three years. However, that deadline can change, and the time to notify that defendant can be as little as three months before you lose the right to bring a claim. If you have been injured, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible, and not wait longer than 1 month.
How long will my case take?The length of time a case requires in order to resolve will depend heavily on the facts of each case. With that being said, some cases can resolve in as little as 6 months when the issues are clear, while other cases take years.