Here are answers to some of the most frequent questions asked of us. We hope they will help give you a better understanding of what we do here at Nassau Legal Aid.
1) Does the Legal Aid Society represent clients in civil (non-criminal) matters?
Generally, our office does not represent defendants in any matter which does not involve criminal charges. However, we do represent individuals in certain cases from the Nassau County Family Court. There, Legal Aid attorneys are assigned by the court to represent financially eligible adults who are parties in matters concerning child custody and visitation, child neglect and abuse, family offenses (orders of protection), and termination of parental rights.
We also represent respondents in paternity cases and in matters involving a violation of a child support order out of the Family Court.
The Legal Aid Society does not represent parties in juvenile delinquency proceedings or in PINS (Persons in Need of Supervision) cases.
Primarily, we are a criminal defense organization. This means that the vast majority of our clients have been charged with (or convicted of) one or more crimes in Nassau County. We also handle matters in which parolees previously convicted of crimes in Nassau County are facing possible revocation for a variety of reasons.
2) What about other types of civil legal assistance?
Unlike some Legal Aid Societies (most notably the Legal Aid Society in New York City), the Nassau County Legal Aid Society does not have a civil division aside from the Family Court Bureau described above. We do NOT handle matters involving:
• unemployment matters
• government benefits (including welfare)
• foreclosure prevention
• immigration law
• elder law
• driver's license issues
• disability/medical matters
• trusts and estates (wills)
We also do not handle any lawsuits between private parties. For assistance with many of these legal matters, you can contact Nassau-Suffolk Law Services at (516) 292-8100. You may also try calling the Volunteer Lawyers' Project at (516) 292-8299.
If you need assistance on an immigration matter, you may call (516) 571-2722, or the Immigrant Defense Project at (212) 725-6422.
3) Does the Legal Aid Society represent defendants in all types of criminal cases out of Nassau County?
No. Our office represents criminal defendants facing charges in the Nassau County Court and Nassau County District Court. We do not represent defendants facing federal criminal charges. For assistance on a federal criminal case, please call the Federal Defenders at (631) 712-6500.
We do not represent defendants facing charges in the Nassau County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency at 16 Cooper Street in Hempstead, NY. If you are facing traffic violations that are returnable to that address, you are entitled to represent yourself at all proceedings or retain private counsel. You are not entitled to assigned counsel.
We also do not represent defendants facing charges in Nassau County Village Courts or any other local Nassau County courts. In order to receive legal assistance for criminal charges arising out of the local courts, please call the clerk's office at the individual court and ask if you are entitled to free representation (and if so, how you can obtain it).
Finally, we do not represent or provide legal advice to people charged with crimes in any county other than Nassau. If you have been charged with a crime in another county in the State of New York, you can find a list of Public Defense organizations here.
4) How do I get an attorney from the Legal Aid Society to represent me on my case?
We are not permitted to choose or select our clients. Instead, a judge in either the Nassau County Family Court, District Court, or County Court must assign us to represent a defendant.
The only exceptions to this rule are that a) we represent any person being arraigned at the Nassau County District Court following arrest if that person does not have any legal counsel at the time of arraignment; and b) we will provide very basic legal counsel and limited representation in certain pre-arrest situations. For example, if the police are actively seeking to arrest or question someone about alleged criminal activity, we may intervene for the purposes of arranging a surrender or communicating with the police.
Aside from these two exceptions, all other persons charged with a crime but unable to afford a private attorney must ask the court to assign our office to the case. The court will then make a determination as to that person's financial eligibility for assigned counsel. If and when the court decides to assign counsel, an attorney from our office or the 18-B assigned counsel plan will be notified of assignment, and representation can begin. A similar process takes place in the Family Court for non-criminal cases.
5) Can I contact the Legal Aid Society if I have an attorney, but am not satisfied with his or her representation or if I want a second opinion on legal strategy?
No. We cannot and will not provide any legal advice to a person who is represented by other counsel. To do so would be both unprofessional and unethical. If you are unhappy with the representation you are receiving from a non-Legal Aid attorney, you should speak with your attorney or terminate the representation and retain a new attorney.
If you are represented by a court-appointed attorney, you will typically need the court's permission to terminate the attorney's services and you must provide a specific and valid explanation for your request.
6) How do I take care of a warrant that was issued because I missed a court date?
This type of warrant is called a "bench warrant." In order to vacate this type of warrant in Nassau County, you must appear in court. Here is what you should do:
If the warrant was issued because you missed a court date in the District Court, you must go to the courthouse at 99 Main Street in Hempstead. You should try to go when the court opens at 9:00 a.m., and check in at the clerk's office located in the main hallway, to the left of the main entrance. When you are asked, tell them you are there to vacate a warrant.
They will tell you which courtroom to attend, and there you may approach one of the two Legal Aid Society attorneys staffing the courtroom that day and ask if they will help you explain to the judge why you missed your last court date. The judge may, or may not, consider the fact that you voluntarily returned to court, but will definitely give you a new court date. There is a possibility that the judge will require bail, or increase a previous bail amount. If that happens and you do not have money to post the bail at that time, you will be taken into custody until your bail is posted. It is therefore a good idea to bring someone with you to the courthouse with as much money as possible.
If the warrant was issued because you missed a court date in the County Court, you must contact the clerk of the County Court at 262 Old Country Road in Mineola to request a court date before the judge from whose courtroom the warrant was issued. If you were represented by the Legal Aid Society in the previous case, please try first to contact our office and, if possible, the attorney who represented you. If you were represented by a non-Legal Aid attorney, you should try to contact that attorney prior to appearing in court. It will be in your best interest to have an attorney present when you appear in court, since the felony charge(s) at issue will make it more likely that the judge will incarcerate you on higher bail pending resolution of your case.
If the warrant was issued because you missed a court date in the Family Court, you must turn yourself in to the Sheriff in the basement of the Courthouse at 1200 Old Country Road in Westbury. You will be held until your case is called by a Judge or Hearing Examiner. We recommend that you appear in the morning to ensure that your case is called the same day, and you are not held overnight before appearing in front of a judge. You may be released on the day you appear, or bail may be set. Just as in the District Court, appearing in court voluntarily may increase the possibility that you will be released.
7) Can the Legal Aid Society help me get my criminal record sealed or expunged?
The general answer to this question is no. New York State does not currently offer any option for expungement of criminal records. In addition, there are very limited types of criminal cases which can be sealed.
According to New York law, all "favorable dispositions" should be sealed automatically under CPL § 160.50. This means that the following types of dispositions will be sealed by operation of law.
||Dismissal by Grand Jury
||Dismissal in Interests of Justice
Adjournment in Contemplation
of Dismissal (ACD)
|Dismissal of Information
|Order Setting Aside the Verdict
||Order Vacating a Judgment
In addition, certain violations and traffic infractions should be sealed under CPL § 160.55. This may include some common Penal Law violations such as Trespass (PL § 140.05), Disorderly Conduct (PL § 240.20), Harassment in the Second Degree (PL § 240.26) and Loitering (PL § 240.35), among others.
However, it is a common condition of many guilty pleas in Nassau County that the defendant waive his right to have a conviction of the violation or infraction sealed. You must speak to your trial attorney to determine whether or not you waived the right to have the conviction sealed if you pleaded guilty to an eligible offense.
Finally, Youthful Offender Adjudications and certain Family Court findings and records may be sealed in certain circumstances. Please speak with your attorney to find out whether this applies to your case.
In any event, we are unable to help members of the general public seeking to have their prior convictions sealed. If we represented you in the case which you believe should have been sealed, please call us and speak with the attorney who represented you below. Otherwise, you may find out more at the Legal Action Center's website here or Reentry.net here.
We should note that in today's internet-based society, it is nearly impossible to ensure that even a conviction which was properly sealed is completely protected from public scrutiny. Internet searches may reveal information which was supposed to be sealed, such as public news items.
In addition, the Office of Court Administration in New York now sells access to criminal histories online. The OCA Criminal History Record Search still reports sealed violation arrests. Therefore employers and others can still easily discover the arrest underlying a sealed violation conviction.
For more detailed information on cleaning up your rap sheet, please see the publication "How to Get and Clean Up Your New York State Rap Sheet" published by the Legal Action Center by clicking here.
8) Is there anything I can do to help myself with jobs or housing if I have an old conviction?
Maybe. If you have been convicted of one felony and/or any number of misdemeanor convictions (including those outside New York and federal convictions), you may be eligible for a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities. This certificate will relieve many (though not all) automatic forfeitures and disabilities which result from a criminal conviction. In other words, if the conviction would prevent you from getting certain New York licenses, obtaining this certificate might negate that disability.
A court may grant a request for this certificate at sentencing, or at anytime thereafter. To get such a certificate after sentencing, you must contact the clerk's office at the court in which you were convicted or, if you are or have been on parole, from the New York State Division of Parole who you can call them at (518) 485-8953.
A Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities is not binding on private employers, but may provide a "presumption of rehabilitation." In other words, this will not prevent private employers from denying you employment, but it may show them that you have been rehabilitated.
The court will grant the request for a certificate or deny it in its discretion.
Please note that you must get a separate certificate for each misdemeanor conviction, and you can only obtain one if you have no more than one felony conviction (and unlimited misdemeanor convictions).
If you have multiple felony convictions, you may apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct. Please contact the New York State Division of Parole with questions about applying.
9) Can the Legal Aid Society help me file a criminal complaint against someone?
No. We represent people charged with crimes. If you are looking to file a complaint, you may call the Nassau County District Attorney's office at their complaint phone number- (516) 571-3505 or (516) 571-4967 or you may call your local police precinct.
10) How can I get my car returned if it was seized because of a criminal case in Nassau County?
Unfortunately, unless we represented you on the underlying criminal case, there is nothing we can do to help you recover a seized vehicle. You should call the Nassau County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (516) 747-4832 and ask for the name of a lawyer who handles these types of matters.
Additional questions and answers will be posted periodically. Please check back again.
This page was last updated on:
May 27, 2014