Criminal cases are brought by the government against people (or sometimes against corporations). They start in one of two ways: either a person is arrested or a person learns that he or she is under investigation. Once a person is arrested, he or she becomes a "defendant" in the criminal justice system. Investigations can often lead to arrests. For more on criminal investigations, please see below.
Once a person has been arrested, he or she needs a lawyer right away. In the New York area, there is a vast array of state, federal and local agencies that have the power to arrest people and bring them before the courts. State and local agencies including the city police bring people to state court — in New York City, criminal cases generally begin in New York City Criminal Court which runs almost around the clock processing new cases. Federal agencies like the FBI, the Postal Inspectors, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement bring people they arrest to Federal Court.
For more information, please see our Glossary of Legal Terms.