Legal & Criminal Justice
Note: If your loved one is arrested, go to section below. This section also covers Civil/Criminal (Forensic) Legal Services, Re-Entry and Parole, and Firearms Reporting.
There are two general types of legal services: civil and criminal. Civil legal aid assists people to protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families. Examples of these legal matters include housing, benefits, disability, rent, and unemployment. Criminal legal aid assists people with police, courts, and corrections, including arrest, incarceration and re-entry. Some legal aid agencies assist with both civil and criminal services, as indicated in the resource descriptions that follow.
Civil Legal Services (some resources also have criminal services)
Mental Health Advocates of WNY
Legal Services and Advocacy
999 Delaware Ave
Buffalo, NY 14209
New York National Guard Family Programs/Region 1
184 Connecticut St
Buffalo, NY 14213
PAIMI (Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness)
Disability Rights New York
CAP44 Exchange Blvd, Suite 110
Rochester, NY 14614
Criminal Legal Services (Forensic Services)
Criminal Justice (Forensic Services) Contacts:
Erie County Correctional Facility – Sheriff’s Office
Erie County Holding Center
40 Delaware Ave
Buffalo, NY 14202
Erie County District Attorney
25 Delaware Ave
Buffalo, NY 14202
C.O.U.R.T.S. (Court Outreach Unit: Referral and Treatment Services)
- Buffalo City Mental Health Court
50 Delaware Ave., Ste. 400
Buffalo, NY 14202
Contact: Call or walk in.
Can accept cases from anywhere in Erie County.
- Tonawanda Mental Health Court
City of Tonawanda Court
200 Niagara St
Tonawanda, NY 14150
- Dunkirk Mental Health Court
Dunkirk City Hall
342 Central Ave
Dunkirk, NY 14048
- Jamestown Mental Health Court
200 E. 3rd St
Jamestown, NY 14701
- Olean Mental Health Court
101 East State St
PO Box 631
Olean, NY 14760
- Lockport Mental Health Court
One Locks Plaza
Lockport, NY 14094
- Niagara Falls Mental Health Court
Re-Entry & Parole Program & Services
If Your Relative is Arrested
Unfortunately, people with severe mental illness may be more likely to be arrested at some time or another. Often it is a “mercy” arrest where police find a very deteriorated person wandering about who doesn’t know her/his name, who may be very confused, or in danger from the cold. Police will then arrest the person on some minor charge simply so they don’t remain out on the streets.
In other cases, the charges are more serious. At any time, if your relative is arrested, the first thing to do is find out who has made the arrest since this will determine where s/he will be held. If you are present when the arrest takes place, do not distract the officers. They are there to stop illegal activity and keep everyone safe, not to advise or mediate. It is okay to simply let the responding officers know that there is a history of psychiatric illness. Do contact the holding facility as soon as possible to alert them to any relevant psychiatric history and need for medication. Do not bring medication to the jail as they cannot be administered from the patient’s prescription bottle and it is not legal to have someone else’s prescription medication in your possession. Do keep a list of current medications which you can give to staff, preferably a nurse if available.
In Buffalo, the person will probably spend the night at Central Booking, Erie County Holding Center, Buffalo, NY 14202 (716-858-7638), then be brought before a judge to be charged (arraigned) in the morning. In some instances, she or he may be held in a precinct holding cell and brought to court in the morning from there. In the suburbs, she or he may be held in a local town jail until the arraignment. Each town or city in Erie County has judges who do such arraignments. Call the town or city clerk’s offices for information if it is outside the City of Buffalo. Arraignment will take place in the jurisdiction in which the alleged offense was committed. There are state as well as city, village, and town courts. What court will ultimately have jurisdiction will depend on the seriousness of the charges.
Try to be present at the arraignment. When you go to court for the arraignment, plan to go early and wait until the court room is opened. You will have to clear security in many court buildings, so do not wear or bring anything that could be considered a security risk (metal, weapon, etc.). Bring with you for the attorney (the district attorney if you called for the arrest with a complaint; the defense attorney if you hire one, or your relative’s assigned public defender) a summary of your loved one’s medical and psychiatric history that includes:
- any medications taken or needed
- the name and phone number of the prescribing doctor
- any prescription numbers
- the pharmacy where the prescription is filled (if known).
Do not ask the attorney to review the file with you at the arraignment – they handle many cases in a day and will need time after arraignments to look at it. You may ask the attorney if they can meet with you briefly when their arraignments are finished for the day if you can wait until then. Once they have seen the information, they can bring concerns to the judge for consideration.
At the arraignment, some judges allow family members to stand with their relative, and perhaps speak, if desired. The court officer can tell you whether your judge allows this or not.
After arraignment, the person may be released on their own recognizance (that is, a court date is set for further proceedings and the person is required to appear, but will not be held in jail), or, they may be able to post bail (present to the court a sum of money which they would forfeit if they doesn’t show up) or they may be held in custody and be sent to the Erie County Holding Center, 10 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY 14202.
If your relative is sent to the Holding Center, get in touch immediately with the Forensic Mental Health Service, 120 West Eagle St., Buffalo, NY 14202 (716-858-8095 and fax 716-858-6666). For assistance, contact Ronald Schoelerman at 716-858-8036. Describe the situation and background on your relative. Leave a detailed message if you get a voice mail system and be sure to include your name and phone number.
The Forensic Mental Health Service is a comprehensive mental health clinic which provides consultations, evaluations, treatment, and court ordered examination of any inmates of the Holding Center. The Service also works with other outpatient mental health services and agencies to ensure follow-up treatment after the individual leaves custody or is allowed to leave the jail.
In addition, the Family Court Clinic (716-858-8167) deals with Family Court PINS and juvenile delinquency cases, juvenile probation, custody and visitation disputes.
If you can possibly afford it, get a lawyer. Even though the charges may be minor, it is important to avoid a conviction which results in a criminal record. If you cannot afford a lawyer, your relative will be assigned one through the Legal Aid Bureau, (716-853-9555).
Try to contact the assigned counsel (lawyer) and let them know the situation. Find out exactly what the charges are, in which court (called Parts I, II, III, etc. in the City of Buffalo) the charges will be tried, and who the judge will be.
Phone or write a letter to the judge and explain the situation to her/him. Go to court for the trial if possible, even if they tell you not to show up, so the judge knows that there is an involved, interested family.
Leave a day or two for your calls to be returned. “Over-calling” does not help the situation. Be sure to write down who you called and when, and keep track of the replies you receive.
Visiting Your Relative
A person with a mental illness will, if arrested, most likely be held at the Holding Center at 10 Delaware Ave. There are a limited number of special housing units for individuals with mental health concerns. If your relative is seriously ill, or you suspect self-harm, call the Holding Center (716-858-7636) and alert them. Ask that your relative be closely watched or placed in special housing. Get the name of the officer you talk to.
Individuals being held who show violent or suicidal behavior and are charged with a very serious crime, may be transferred to the Forensic Unit of the Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) where there is closer supervision.
Visitation at the Holding Center is constrained by many regulations and procedures. For a complete list, including what you should bring (e.g., ID) or should not bring (shoes made with metal), please visit the Erie County Sheriff website.
- Call to find out what the visiting hours and days are. These change frequently and you can only visit during specified times.
- Get there early. Only a limited number of visitors are allowed and unless you sign in at least one hour or more ahead of time, you probably will not get in to see your relative.
- Visits are time limited and you will see your relative in a visiting room through a heavy mesh screen.
- Do not wear metal on your person, clothes or shoes as you will need to clear a metal detector. Bring documentation of any medical devices.
- Bring change. You may leave book bags, purses, etc. in a locker which requires a quarter ($.25) deposit. Staff at the jail will not provide change.
- You can only visit your relative twice a week. Special rules exist for bringing a child to the Holding Center. Refer to the Sheriff ’s website above for details.
- Paperback books, magazines, and newspapers must be mailed only to your relative, several restrictions apply. You may also send clean clothes but there are many restrictions. A complete list of these restrictions may be found at the Sheriff’s website link above.
- You cannot bring your relative cigarettes, candy, toothpaste, etc. You may leave money on deposit so s/he can purchase these things from the Holding Center commissary (store).
Claiming Your Relative’s Possessions
Belongings may be misplaced or go missing for a variety of reasons. They may have been removed from the person in the local precinct, the town jail, at Central Booking, or at the Holding Center. If there is anything valuable that was taken from the person, try to track it down as soon as possible. Often, the most important item may be identifications such as driver’s license, Social Services benefits ID, or Medicaid card which are time consuming to replace. Find out what possessions your relative had when arrested, and where these were turned in. Call to find out what you have to do to retrieve them.
Before the trial, check with your relative’s attorney to confirm the date and place. Trial dates, times, and places are often changed on little or no warning. Stay in touch with the lawyer to find out what’s happening. They are often less than reliable about answering letters or returning phone calls, so it’s necessary to be persistent.
The NYS SAFE Act, which governs use and possession of firearms, contains a reporting requirement. Mental health professionals, (physicians [including psychiatrists], psychologists, registered nurses, and licensed clinical social workers) currently providing treatment who, in their reasonable professional judgment, determine that a patient or client is “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others,” must report their determinations to the County Director of Community Services (in Erie, Commissioner of Mental Health) or his/her designees, who shall report the information to the Division of Criminal Justice Services if the Director of Community Services agrees that the person is likely to engage in such conduct. The Division of Criminal Justice Services may use such information only to determine whether a license issued under Penal Law 400.00 should be suspended or revoked, and whether a person is ineligible for such license or no longer permitted under state or federal law to possess a firearm.
Mental health professionals under the SAFE Act are not required to comply with this reporting requirement if, in the exercise of his or her reasonable professional judgment, doing so would endanger the mental health professional or increase the danger to a potential victim or victims. A decision to disclose or not disclose such information, when made reasonably and in good faith, shall not be the basis for civil or criminal liability.
For information about Firearm Storage, click here.