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Law Offices of Robert Briere
New York City Criminal Defense Lawyer

 Answers to General questions about a New York City Criminal Court Summons 

Q. My client called and said that he received a New York City Criminal Court Summons to appear.  What is that?  

A. A criminal Court summons is one of two ways that an individual can be charged with a crime (or non criminal violation or infraction) in New York City Criminal Court.  (The way is via a criminal complaint).  

On the client’s copy of the summons, the title of the offense is followed by a list of all of the NYC courts which handle criminal courts summons in New York City.  On the copy of the summons that is filed with the court, in place of this list is the officer’s recitation of factual allegations which led to the summons.  (More on this later)
Following the list of courts are two lines for any statements made by defendant.  Then, towards the bottom of the summons is information identifying the officer who issued the summons.  Finally, at the bottom of the summons is the address for the court.   

One of the positive aspects of being charged by summons as compared to a criminal complaint is that a person is not usually arrested when issued a summons.  Aside from saving the individual all the negative attendant circumstances that come with an arrest (handcuffs, confinement, etc), the person issued the summons is not booked which means no mugshots nor fingerprints.   This is important when trying to understand the extent of any record left by a summons. 

However, remember that while a summons charge is usually just a violation an infraction or a low-level misdemeanor, police officers always have the discretion to make an actual arrest for any offense charged by summons.   In fact, sometimes if the person has no I.D. they might be arrested and taken to the precinct.

Another feature of a summons over a criminal complaint is that the client is usually not facing any realistic chance of jail time as a penalty for a conviction of a summons.   This author has never seen an individual given jail over a summons at any of the summons courts in NYC. 

Q. Where are the Summons Courts in New York City?

A. The summons Courts for most of Brooklyn and most of Manhattan are handled at 1 Centre Street in downtown Manhattan.  For Bronx, the summons are handled in the summons court at 215 East 161st Street Bronx, For Queens, the summons are handled at 120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens and for Staten Island they are heard at 67 Targee Street in Staten Island.  There are also some summons for Manhattan that are heard at 314 West 54th Street (Midtown Community court) and some of the Brooklyn summons are heard at 89-94 Visitation Place in Brooklyn. 

Q.  How are the summons processed so that they end up in court? 

A.  The officer’s copy of the summons is eventually delivered to 1 Centre Street.  There it is scanned and converted to a pdf file and then entered in to the SAMS (“Summons automated Management system”) database and given a docket number. 

 

Chapter 3 Convictions to New York City Summons violations are public and permanent

 

Q. If my client accepts the courts offer to a fine will my client have a permanent record?

 

A. Yes! There will be a permanent public record that he pleaded guilty to a violation and paid a fine.  In fact, it even says so right on the back of every summons in RED LETTERS:



Q.  Would background checkers be able to find out that my client pleaded guilty to a violation in a summons part? 

 

A.  Yes, if they come to the summons court clerk armed with information such as your client’s name and birth date, driver’s license number or the docket number of the summons.  

 

The record of the plea will be maintained in perpetuity by the court clerk at the summons parts and made available at the courthouse for inspection by anyone who has your client’s name and other identifying information such as a birth date or driver’s license number or docket number.  Moreover, there is no way of preventing data miners from obtaining the information from the clerks and then republishing that information in a more accessible forum for others to purchase and see. 

 

At present, the summons information is entered into the New York City Criminal Court’s SAMS database (“Summons Automated Management System”) which is currently segregated from the more robust CRIMS database (the database which stores the more serious criminal court records).  But it’s anyone’s guess whether the SAMS system will remain segregated in perpetuity or perhaps merged with the CRIMS data base and/or even migrated online at some point.

 

Q. How can I avoid having my client get a permanent record for his summons? 

 

A. Once the summons is docketed, the only way to avoid having your client get a permanent public record for the summons would be for you to obtain either a dismissal or an ACD for your client.

 

Q.  If My client gets an ACD or immediate dismissal so that the case is sealed under CPL 160.50, what will happen if a background checker goes to the courthouse with my client’s name or the docket number and asks about the summons?

 

            A.  My understanding from speaking to many clerks on the issue is that the clerks are instructed to inform the background checker that they have no public record of that individual on file.  However, if your client gets an ACD, the record will remain public until the charge is dismissed.  (Usually 6 months).

 

Q. Is the court record in the clerk’s office the only record with which my client should be concerned? 

 

Luckily, since your client was just given a summons and not arrested, your client was likely not fingerprinted.  When clients are arrested, taken to the precinct and fingerprinted, a set of records including mug shots, an FBI record, and a New York Division of Criminal Justice Record is generated. 

 

But since your client was just given the summons without being fingerprinted, the only record of the event (outside of whatever records NYPD might keep) would be the Court record.  (Unless some private entity takes the information while it is publicly available and makes their own record of it).

 

CAVEAT:  when the summons is received from the police and processed, it is scanned, given a docket number and entered into the SAMS Database (Summons Automated Management system).  Once it is docketed and in the SAMS system, it will appear on the New York State E Courts website until it is disposed. Disposition means when a guilty plea is entered or when dismissed. the E courts website is publicly available

 
The information on Webcrims includes the client’s name, docket number, court date, appearances, the statutory violation at issue and the date of alleged violation.  At present, it does not include a pdf of the summons, nor does it include any description of the facts other than the statutory title of the offense.  Usually, a summons will appear on Webcrims about 3-4 weeks prior to the court appearance date listed on the summons.  If the client disposes of the case on the court date with either a guilty plea or a dismissal, the database entry in Webcrims will disappear the day following the disposition. 

 

If the client receives an ACD, the file will stay visible for the duration of the ACD (usually 6 months)  on Webcrims with a notation that the client received the ACD.  When the case is dismissed at the end of the ACD, the Webcrims information will no longer be available.

 

The main point of noting that the summons information will appear on Webcrims is to illustrate that information about the summons can be vulnerable to background checkers and snoops during the window of time (usually several weeks) between processing and disposition.  Of course, if it is an ACD, this vulnerable period can be longer than six months if one includes the six month ACD period plus any pre ACD period where the summons information is publicly available. 

 

Also, it is important for your client to know that a summons can be transferred from the SAMS to the CRIMS database if a warrant is ordered for your client.  If a warrant is ordered the case information may also be go into an FBI database.  This author does not believe that federal entities such as the FBI are obligated to seal New York records pursuant to CPL 160.50.

 

Also, the NYPD keeps their own records of the summons that they write and this record is independent of the SAMS database.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Chapter 1  General information about a New York City Criminal Court Summons

 

Q. My client called and said that he received a New York City Criminal Court Summons to appear.  What is that? 

 

A. A criminal Court summons is one of two ways that an individual can be charged with a crime (or non criminal violation or infraction) in New York City Criminal Court.  (The way is via a criminal complaint).  Below is a copy of the front of an NYC Criminal Court summons for public urination under NYC Administrative code 16-118(6) as it would appear when handed to a defendant:

Figure 1 Summons as received on street from NYPD officer (with redactions)

 

The top six horizontal boxes of figure 1 contain the client’s personal information.  (Name, address, etc...) This followed by four horizontal boxes describing the time, date, place and then the violation charged (usually the provision of the code violated).  This is followed by the title of the offense, which listed as “Urinating in Public”.   

 

On the client’s copy of the summons, the title of the offense is followed by a list of all of the NYC courts which handle criminal courts summons in New York City.  On the copy of the summons that is filed with the court, in place of this list is the officer’s recitation of factual allegations which led to the summons.  (More on this later)

 

Following the list of courts are two lines for any statements made by defendant.  Then, towards the bottom of the summons is information identifying the officer who issued the summons.  Finally, at the bottom of the summons is the address for the court.  This particular summons is for 314 West 54th Street (Midtown Community court).  This is followed by the court date.  In this case it is 4/9/15. 

 

One of the positive aspects of being charged by summons as compared to a criminal complaint is that a person is not usually arrested when issued a summons.  Aside from saving the individual all the negative attendant circumstances that come with an arrest (handcuffs, confinement, etc), the person issued the summons is not booked which means no mugshots nor fingerprints.   This is important when trying to understand the extent of any record left by a summons.

 

However, remember that while a summons charge is usually just a violation an infraction or a low-level misdemeanor, police officers always have the discretion to make an actual arrest for any offense charged by summons.   In fact, sometimes if the person has no I.D. they might be arrested and taken to the precinct.

Another feature of a summons over a criminal complaint is that the client is usually not facing any realistic chance of jail time as a penalty for a conviction of a summons.   This author has never seen an individual given jail over a summons at any of the summons courts in NYC. 

 

Q. Where are the Summons Courts in New York City?



A. The summons Courts for most of Brooklyn and most of Manhattan are handled at 346 Broadway in downtown Manhattan.  For Bronx, the summons are handled in the summons court at 215 East 161st Street Bronx, For Queens, the summons are handled at 120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens and for Staten Island they are heard at 67 Targee Street in Staten Island.  There are also some summons for Manhattan that are heard at 314 West 54th Street (Midtown Community court) and some of the Brooklyn summons are heard at 89-94 visitation Place in Brooklyn.

 

Q.  How are the summons processed so that they end up in court?

 

A.  The officer’s copy of the summons is eventually delivered to 346 Broadway.  There it is scanned and converted to a pdf file and then entered in to the SAMS (“Summons automated Management system”) database and given a docket number. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2   Potential fines and penalties for

some of the common summons violations

 

Q. What is the range of penalties that my client is likely facing if he is convicted of the charge listed on his summons?

 

A.  Generally, if a client pleads guilty in a regular summons part, the summons is reduced to a violation and the penalties are fines ranging from $25 for an open container violation, $50 dollars for a public urination violation, and $50-200 for a disorderly conduct violation or a reckless driving violation.  Whether the client is charged with a violation or a misdemeanor, the JHO usually offers the client a plea to Section 229 of the Public Health Law, the text of which is as follows:

 

Public Health

 

    §  229.  Sanitary  code; violation; penalties.   The provisions of the sanitary  code  shall  have  the  force  and  effect  of  law  and  the non-compliance  or  non-conformance  with  any  provision  thereof shall constitute a violation punishable on conviction for a first offense by a fine not exceeding two hundred fifty dollars or by imprisonment for  not

  exceeding fifteen days, or both; and for a second or subsequent offense by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or by imprisonment for  not

  exceeding fifteen days, or both.

 

(Under New York Law, a Public Health Law 229 is a violation and not a crime since the maximum penalty does not exceed fifteen days.)

 

Q. How do I know whether my client is charged with a misdemeanor or a violation? 

 

A. If it is not stated in or near the particular provision in question, just determine the maximum punishment for the charge. Pursuant to the New York Penal Code, any charge for which the penalty of imprisonment does not exceed fifteen days is a violation.  Below is a quick reference for several of the most common summons charges:

 

Every offense under the NYC Park Rules is a misdemeanor. That includes being in the park after dark and disobeying park signs.



Public urination under AC 16-118(6) is a violation while public urination under Health Code 153.09 is a misdemeanor.



Disorderly conduct under Penal Law 240.20 is a violation, while disorderly conduct under the park rules is a misdemeanor.



Reckless driving under VTL 1212 is a misdemeanor.



Open container under 10-125(2) (b) is a violation while open container under the park rules is a misdemeanor.

 

 

Q. My client is charged with open container of alcohol, what is the maximum fine that he can receive?

 

A. The maximum penalty for open container under 10-125(2) (b) is $25 and five days in jail*. 

 

Q. My client is charged with reckless driving, what is the maximum fine that he can receive?

 

A. The maximum penalty for reckless driving is 30 days in jail*, license revocation 5 points and a $300 fine.

 

Q. What is the maximum penalty for Disorderly Conduct under penal law 240.20?

 

            A. the maximum penalty for disorderly conduct is 15 days jail*and a $250 dollar fine. (Plus a 120 dollar court surcharge)

 

Q. What is the maximum penalty for public urination under New York Administrative code 16-118(6)?

 

            A. The maximum penalty for a violation of 16-118(6) is 10 days in jail* and a $250 fine.

 

Q. What is the maximum penalty for a violation of any of the park rules and regulations?

 

            A. All violations under the park rules and regulations are misdemeanors punishable by 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine. (However, defacing a tree is punishable by one year in jail and a $15,000 fine)

 

 

 * I have never seen anyone get jail for any summons offense in summons court.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3 Convictions to New York City Summons violations are public and permanent

 

Q. If my client accepts the courts offer to a fine will my client have a permanent record?

 

A. Yes! There will be a permanent public record that he pleaded guilty to a violation and paid a fine.  In fact, it even says so right on the back of every summons in RED LETTERS:



Figure 2 Reverse of summons with warning in red!

 
 

 

 

Q.  Would background checkers be able to find out that my client pleaded guilty to a violation in a summons part? 

 

A.  Yes, if they come to the summons court clerk armed with information such as your client’s name and birth date, driver’s license number or the docket number of the summons.  

 

The record of the plea will be maintained in perpetuity by the court clerk at the summons parts and made available at the courthouse for inspection by anyone who has your client’s name and other identifying information such as a birth date or driver’s license number or docket number.  Moreover, there is no way of preventing data miners from obtaining the information from the clerks and then republishing that information in a more accessible forum for others to purchase and see. 

 

At present, the summons information is entered into the New York City Criminal Court’s SAMS database (“Summons Automated Management System”) which is currently segregated from the more robust CRIMS database (the database which stores the more serious criminal court records).  But it’s anyone’s guess whether the SAMS system will remain segregated in perpetuity or perhaps merged with the CRIMS data base and/or even migrated online at some point.

 

Q. How can I avoid having my client get a permanent record for his summons? 

 

A. Once the summons is docketed, the only way to avoid having your client get a permanent public record for the summons would be for you to obtain either a dismissal or an ACD for your client.

 

Q.  If My client gets an ACD or immediate dismissal so that the case is sealed under CPL 160.50, what will happen if a background checker goes to the courthouse with my client’s name or the docket number and asks about the summons?

 

            A.  My understanding from speaking to many clerks on the issue is that the clerks are instructed to inform the background checker that they have no public record of that individual on file.  However, if your client gets an ACD, the record will remain public until the charge is dismissed.  (Usually 6 months).

 

Q. Is the court record in the clerk’s office the only record with which my client should be concerned? 

 

Luckily, since your client was just given a summons and not arrested, your client was likely not fingerprinted.  When client are arrested, taken to the precinct and fingerprinted, a set of records including mug shots, an FBI record, and a New York Division of Criminal Justice Record is generated. 

 

But since your client was just given the summons without being fingerprinted, the only record of the event (outside of whatever records NYPD might keep) would be the Court record.  (Unless some private entity takes the information while it is publicly available and makes their own record of it).

 

CAVEAT:  when the summons is received from the police and processed, it is scanned, given a docket number and entered into the SAMS Database (Summons Automated Management system).  Once it is docketed and in the SAMS system, it will appear on the New York State E Courts website until it is disposed. Disposition means when a guilty plea is entered or when dismissed.

 

Here is a link to the Webcrims data base:

 

https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/webcrim_attorney/AttorneyWelcome

 

The information on Webcrims includes the client’s name, docket number, court date, appearances, the statutory violation at issue and the date of alleged violation.  At present, it does not include a pdf of the summons, nor does it include any description of the facts other than the statutory title of the offense.  Usually, a summons will appear on Webcrims about 3-4 weeks prior to the court appearance date listed on the summons.  If the client disposes of the case on the court date with either a guilty plea or a dismissal, the database entry in Webcrims will disappear the day following the disposition. 

 

If the client receives an ACD, the file will stay visible for the duration of the ACD (usually 6 months) with a notation that the client received the ACD.  When the case is dismissed at the end of the ACD, the Webcrims information will no longer be available.

 

The main point of noting that the summons information will appear on Webcrims is to illustrate that information about the summons can be vulnerable to background checkers and snoops during the window of time (usually several weeks) between processing and disposition.  Of course, if it is an ACD, this vulnerable period can be longer than six months if one includes the six month ACD period plus any pre ACD period where the summons information is publicly available. 

 

Also, it is important for your client to know that a summons can be transferred from the SAMS to the CRIMS database if a warrant is ordered for your client.  If a warrant is ordered the case information may also be go into an FBI database.  This author does not believe that federal entities such as the FBI are obligated to seal New York records pursuant to CPL 160.50.

 

Also, the NYPD keeps their own records of the summons that they write and this record is independent of the SAMS database.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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