LAST WEEK IN COURT

OCTOBER 30 - NOVEMBER 5

Risk Assessments

  • A man with no criminal record, charged with violating an order of protection, was given a high C.J.A. score, which suggested he was a high risk to not appear back to court. The ADA cited the high CJA score when they requested $3,000 bail. However, factors beyond his control seem to have contributed to the high score, including the fact that his existing order of protection prevented his family from attending the arraignment and also rendered him unable to retrieve legal documents from his apartment.

  • $3,000 bail was set for young man accused of assault, based on the strength of a risk assessment which was conducted without an interpreter (accused’s primary language is Russian.) The accused is a long-haul trucker and claims that his truck GPS will show he was out of state at the time of the incident.

Predatory Policing

  • A young Black man was arrested when two undercover police officers came up to him because they claimed they smelled marijuana. Under this pretext the cops felt his bag and arrested him because something in his bag “felt like a gun.” Court watchers reflect that searching a bag because of the smell of pot is a clear pretext stop, especially as low-level marijuana charges are (ostensibly) no-longer prosecuted in Brooklyn. On top of this, the accused has previously been arrested for a marijuana offense by the same cop. The prosecution requested $15,000 bail.

Unreasonable Bail

  • A middle-aged Latinx man was arraigned for burglary in the second degree in Brooklyn on November 1st for allegedly stealing a child’s painting set. The accused said he didn’t enter the complainant’s home and claims he saw the painting set in the trash/recycling bin and picked it up. The prosecutor requests $10,000 bail and an order of protection, citing the man is a flight risk. The public defender contested this request and asked the accused be released on their own recognizance because his last failure to appear was 10 years ago, he’s currently in a drug treatment program, has a part time job and has lived with his mom for over a decade. Judge Ambekar set $5,000 bail and two full orders of protection. A watcher reflected, “The fact that bail was set at all for a man who stole a child’s paint set from the trash is an injustice.”

  • ADA Reno requested $25,000 bail for a 19-year old Black boy with no prior record charged with gun possession in Brooklyn, based on the seriousness of the current charge. The prosecutor alleged the boy placed a loaded revolver in a plastic bag under the seat of a taxi cab that was pulled over for running a stop sign. Court watchers question the validity of the search, wondering why the kid, who was a passenger in the taxi, was searched when it was the driver who ran the stop sign. The public defender explained that the accused was currently working, was not a flight risk, and that his mother was present in the courtroom. Judge Ambekar set $15,000 bond/$10,000 cash bail.

Collateral Consequences

  • An order of protection was requested, preventing a young mother, accused of trespassing, from seeing her baby, who is still breast-feeding, as well as the baby’s father. The defense argued against a full order of protection because her child is breast-feeding and also because if the accused loses her child she will be displaced from her family shelter. Despite this, a full order of protection was set.

Domestic Violence

  • According to court watchers, a judge in Manhattan court consistently sets bail higher in domestic violence cases than in other cases with similar bail arguments. A court watcher also stated, “The purpose of bail is to compel the accused to appear in court so it should never be used punitively. However, in several domestic violence cases the Judge set bail even though in otherwise similar non-domestic violence cases, the accused was released on their own recognizance.”

  • In one domestic violence case, a middle aged woman’s bail was set at $1,500 even though she is the primary caretaker of her daughter (who suffers from M.S.) as well as her mother and three other children.

  • In another D.V. case, the judge granted the prosecution’s request to set bail at $750. The defense argued the accused had community ties and no criminal record and the prosecution offered no counter argument, but the judge still granted the original request.

  • In a third D.V. case, bail was set at $7.5k despite conflicting testimonies, and little evidence. The justification for bail was the accused’s criminal record, however the defense noted his only violent offense was in 1987. The accused makes minimum wage and could in no way afford $7.5k.

LAST WEEK IN COURT

OCTOBER 23 - OCTOBER 29

  REFLECTION FROM A WATCHER:  I think about all the ridiculous things I did and said when I was 16 and 17, and how lucky I was not to live in a  community victimized by over-policing.  I think about what a scandal it would have been if I or one of my middle-class, white peers had been sent to jail indefinitely for a crime that we had been accused of  based solely on the testimony of an undercover cop.

REFLECTION FROM A WATCHER: I think about all the ridiculous things I did and said when I was 16 and 17, and how lucky I was not to live in a community victimized by over-policing. I think about what a scandal it would have been if I or one of my middle-class, white peers had been sent to jail indefinitely for a crime that we had been accused of based solely on the testimony of an undercover cop.

  REFLECTION FROM A WATCHER:  Just one arrest is going to make it harder for people who are already the most marginalized --  resulting in the loss of a job, or a bed at a shelter , or a violation of somebody’s parole or probation status. Any of these events have devastating consequences on people’s immediate lives and all but guarantee future justice-involvement, and  it's demoralizing to see that cycle play out right in front of you.

REFLECTION FROM A WATCHER: Just one arrest is going to make it harder for people who are already the most marginalized -- resulting in the loss of a job, or a bed at a shelter, or a violation of somebody’s parole or probation status. Any of these events have devastating consequences on people’s immediate lives and all but guarantee future justice-involvement, and it's demoralizing to see that cycle play out right in front of you.

  REFLECTION FROM A WATCHER:  It was an unforgettable shock to spend my first day in court and see almost none of the assumptions I’d made about due process… Seeing this happen once or twice is upsetting enough, but to sit in a courtroom and see dozens and dozens of people go through this horrific experience in a single day is  inarguable evidence that our legal system has become a factory dedicated to manufacturing convictions than it is a resource for defending the public good.

REFLECTION FROM A WATCHER: It was an unforgettable shock to spend my first day in court and see almost none of the assumptions I’d made about due process… Seeing this happen once or twice is upsetting enough, but to sit in a courtroom and see dozens and dozens of people go through this horrific experience in a single day is inarguable evidence that our legal system has become a factory dedicated to manufacturing convictions than it is a resource for defending the public good.

LAST WEEK IN COURT

OCTOBER 16 - OCTOBER 22

Manhattan | Judge: Martinez Alonso | ADA: Angelica Tillander

  • ADA Tillander requested $25k bail for a Black man charged with Robbery in the 2nd, citing his priors and alleged evidence. The defense contested the strength of the evidence, and detailed that the accused was employed with strong ties to the community, had family present in the courtroom, was on probation and unable to post such high bail. Judge Alonso set bail at $5k.

  • ADA Tillander argued for $5k bail, or supervised release, for a Black woman charged with Grand Larceny and Sale of Tear Gas, citing her prior misdemeanors and warrants. She had family present in the courtroom and her attorney stated she’d be unable to pay bail, so Judge Alonso ROR’d.

Manhattan | Judge: Martinez Alonso | ADA: Stephanie Ritters

  • $50k bail was requested for a Black man charged with Robbery, Assault and Trespassing for a Domestic Violence incident. The prosecution argued on the basis of his past and the severity of the current case. Citing that there was no proof of injury to warrant the assault charge and highlighting that the accused had never missed a court date, and denies/contests the charges. Bail was set at $10k bond/ $5k cash.

  • $15k bail was requested for a Latinx man charged with assault in a DV case, even though the accused walked into the precinct with his son and wife (complainant) to turn himself in, had never been arrested, has been living at the same address with his wife for 16 years, and is an employed father of two. ADA Ritter’s basis for this high bail was the severity of the current charge. A full order of protection was ordered and the judge ROR’d

  • A young Latinx man was charged with Theft of Services for jumping a turnstile. He took a plea and received time served with 3 days of CASES.

Manhattan | Judge: Unknown | ADA: Alexander Rias

  • ADA Rias requested $30k bail for a young black woman charged with assault. She had no priors, a mother of two with a four month old and a foster son. She has held the same job for 12 years helping disabled people and there was no way she’d be able to pay the amount of bail requested by the ADA. Her attorney also argued that she was herself the victim of an abusive relationship. Thankfully, the judge ROR'd.

Manhattan | Judge: Richard Cy | ADA: Unknown

  • The ADA offered a plea and 20 days in jail for a Latinx man charged with criminal trespassing in the third, after he jumped in the subway tracks for a phone charger. The case resolved with a guilty plea and time served.

  • One watcher noted that they “saw a cop pull up a picture of Jar Jar Banks to compare it to a detained person on their computer screen.”

Manhattan | Judge: James Clynes | ADA: Kathleen Creswick

  • $40k bail was requested for a Black man charged with 3rd degree drug possession. Prosecutors alleged the man sold a bag of crack and possessed 29 twists. The public defender made clear there was no way their client could afford such high bail, acknowledging the severity of the charges and requested bail be set at a more reasonable amount. Judge Clynes set bail at $20k.

  • ADA Creswick requested $25k for a young Black man charged with gang assault. The accused was a chef in training with a two-month-old son, and his public defender asked that bail be lowered to $10k at most so he could have a chance of posting bail. Judge set bail at $25k. Court Watchers reflected that this openly nixed the individual's ability to be able to leave, basically remanding him.

  • One marijuana possession in the 5th charge was “dismissed in the interest of justice.”

  • A 75-year-old black man charged with domestic violence assault kept wanting to address the court/ judge for himself, trying to explain his situation. The judge repeatedly warned him to be careful and that it was not advisable for him to speak for himself. Court watchers noted “in the end, we are not really here to hear from him, although it’s his life that’s being debated and judged."

Brooklyn | Judge: Deepa Ambekar | ADA: Unknown

  • A Black man was charged with Tampering with Evidence for allegedly throwing away a pipe after a police informant asked to see it. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 5 days jail.

Brooklyn | Judge: Deepa Ambekar | ADA: Tziyonah Langsam

  • $25k bail was requested for a 19-year-old black woman charged with robbery and assault. She was a single mother, taking GED courses and looking for work. Judge Ambekar set $7,500 bond/$5,000 cash bail.

LAST WEEK IN COURT

OCTOBER 9 - OCTOBER 15

Brooklyn | Judge Freier | ADA Langsam

  • Watchers heard stated on the record that the NYPD used riding a bike on the sidewalk with cash on hand in a “drug area” as probable cause for the search of a Latino man. He was subsequently found to have a substantial amount of drugs on his person and the ADA charged him with Possession in the 3rd, arguing for $7,500 bail. The man had no priors and Judge Freier released him under supervision.

  • ADA Langsam argued that $3,500 bail was necessary for a black man charged with Possession in the 3rd degree. The defense disputed the weight of heroin and argued that the drugs were for personal use, further pointing out that no cash was recovered and that he had not been arrested since 1993. It was also stated that he was currently receiving outpatient treatment through VOCAL-NY. The Judge requested a psychological evaluation and set bail at $2,500.

  • A Watcher noted that Judge Freier “really took time to discuss treatment, Orders of Protection, Supervised Release and offer ‘words of wisdom’. Most cases were poverty based and highlight the crucial need for mental health services, housing and drug court.”

Brooklyn | Judge Yavinsky | ADA Needle

  • A man was charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance for having been in possession cannabis oil. The Legal Aid attorney representing him rejected the offer to plea to a violation, and asked Watchers to note the important distinction that Marijuana oils are being prosecuted differently and more severely than Marijuana itself, highlighting a major inconsistency in DA Gonzalez’s new policy.

  • ADA Needles asked for $25,000 bail in the case of a young black man being charged with gun possession, claiming the defendant is a member of the Bloods. The Defense claimed that the gun was not the defendant’s and claimed he was body slammed and beaten by the arresting officers, pointing to the defendant's wounds. The Defense then asked for bail to be no higher than $7,500. Judge Yavinsky set bail at $10,000.

Manhattan | Judge Clynes

  • An ADA requested $10,000 bail for a black male high school student charged with Robbery and Grand Larceny, citing that although he had no prior convictions, the defendant had one open robbery case and that the severity of the current charge justified the high bail. The defense clarified that the defendant remained unindicted in the 5-month-old old open Robbery case, which would likely be dropped in one month and further alleged that there was weak evidence and their client was being overcharged. His father was also present in the courtroom. Judge Clynes set bail at $2,000 bail/$2,000 bond and rejected the request for a credit card option.

  • $10,000 bail was requested in a DV case for a man charged with Assault in the 2nd. The prosecution’s argument relied on the man’s criminal history from the 80’s and 90’s, when he had served time for manslaughter and kidnapping respectively. The ADA also went on to disclose that the victim (the defendant's daughter), disputed the charges and had specifically told police that her father did not hit her. The defense stated that while the man did have many problems years ago, this was not representative of who he is today. Not only was victim’s mother was present in the courtroom to vouch for the defendant, her ex-husband, but it was also revealed that the young woman was struggling with mental health issues and was recently off of her medication. She had reportedly been drinking the night of the incident and had got into an altercation at a party. She recanted the allegations against her father the next morning, which she stated she had made to detectives while under the influence. Despite these facts, Judge Clynes set bail at $2,000 cash/$2,000 bond.

    • A Watcher noted that the victim’s mother in the audience was confused and distraught, and asked fellow spectators, “why did he get bail?” The Watcher further opined that it seemed the Accused was being judged on the basis of his past crimes, not on the current charge or on who he had become, and questioned if there is any room for redemption available to those whom the criminal legal system is supposedly working to rehabilitate.

  • The ADA requested $25k bail with 72-hour surety for a young female charged with Grand Larceny in the 3rd, who was already remanded on two cases and being held on $50k bail for a third case. The defense asked for $1 bail, noting the futility of the ADA’s request. The Judge granted the prosecution’s request.

  • A man who was caught smoking marijuana was subsequently arrested based on a 2007 warrant that had already been expunged. While the three other people he was with had all received DAT’s, the ADA charged him with Unlawful Possession of Marijuana and Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 7th, offering him time served with a plea to the charge. The offer was rejected.

  • The ADA argued that $50k bail was necessary for a man charged with Assault in the 2nd and Fraudulent Accosting, citing that he had 30 criminal contempt convictions and an assault charge in 1991. The defense pointed out that his last contempt conviction in 2012 had involved him declining to put out a lit cigarette when asked to by a police officer. Detectives acknowledged that the complaining witness had been intoxicated and had made contradictory statements. The defense asked that all Brady Material be disclosed and also pointed out that he had no FTA’s despite his many priors. Bail was set at $15k cash/$15k bond.

  • Two young black men were each separately charged with Petit Larceny and Fraudulent Accosting for being members of an allegedly prolific ring of “CD Scammers” in midtown Manhattan that “preyed on tourists.” The defense in both cases asked, “how does selling mixtapes constitute criminal activity?” The prosecution asked for $3,000 bail in both cases, neither defendant had any prior convictions. Both were released under supervision.

  • The ADA requested $50k bail for a young black man charged with Possession in the 3rd degree and Criminal Sale in the 3rd degree. He had been a target of a search warrant and was on camera selling $450 worth of cocaine to an undercover officer. No drugs were recovered from the home search and the police alleged that the defendant had flushed them down the toilet beforehand. This was his second arrest, he had no prior convictions, was recently in college and his mother was present in the courtroom. She alleged to a Watcher that the police had been upset they didn’t find anything during the search, and had poured mouthwash all over his belongings. She also stated that her toilets had been swabbed for drugs. The Watcher noted that the ADA made no mention of any test results, which if positive, would have made for a more persuasive argument. Their exclusion brought to question whether there were any results yet or at all, further complicating the grounds for the allegations used by the ADA during the bail argument. His mother stated that “I don’t know what happens outside of my house, but I know everything that happens in it.” $25k bail was set.

Manhattan | Judge Martinez | ADA Deossa

  • Watchers witnessed a young man, visibly injured in a fight that resulted in his hospitalization, charged with weapons possession. ADA Deossa requested $100k bail. The public defender called it borderline ridiculous, cites the young man's ties to the community, lack of prior convictions, and notes the young man was the victim of a crime. Judge grants $15k bail. Watchers were unclear as to why such high bail was requested and set.

  • A man on parole was stopped for making an illegal lane change, searched, and charged with weapon possession. Prosecutor asks for $5k bail and judge granted $2k. Watchers were unclear what justified this search?

  • A woman was charged with gun possession and menacing of her son, who she had an order of protection against. Prosecution suggested placing an order of protection on her son, which the defense vigorously opposed. The woman cried when describing her son and the issues her family faces. Watchers reflect that it doesn’t seem like criminal court is an appropriate venue for dealing with these complex family issues. How does this family, or society at large, benefit from the mom needing to pay $5K cash bail, let alone the $20k the prosecutor was asking for initially?

Manhattan | Judge Paek | ADA Crozier

  • $70,000 bail requested by ADA Crozier in the case of a woman charged with possession of stolen property. She was 8-months pregnant and on methadone. How do we expect an expectant mom dealing with a drug addiction to afford that? Judge Paek ROR'ed


Reflection from a Watcher

There is a low hum, almost like a sacred hush, as a ritual involving 20-30 people repeats itself many times. Each defendant requires defense and prosecution, a judge, many many people who record things, sometimes witnesses, translators, protectors, representatives of agencies, and so on. And even though it is supposed to be a public process, it felt overwhelmingly private, intimate even, as if we were peering into the living room of close friends or the back room of experienced collaborators. Most of the players spoke to each other quietly in a language that was barely understandable, numbers and codes signifying important things.

What really stunned me was that the vast majority of cases we heard seemed to be tragically inappropriate for this process. A bent metrocard? Possession of a drug? In one case an Asian man with no criminal record who apparently stole a windbreaker had been held for 3 months because Connecticut wanted to “extradite” him. It seemed like a good outcome when they expedited something and the situation could be resolved in three days. I don't know what I would do if I had to spend one night in jail. Another man who lived in a shelter was given an order of protection to stay away from a guy in the same shelter. How is that possible? Did anyone consider mediation, conflict resolution?

The defendants—I kept thinking of them as prisoners, approached the bench either in handcuffs or in a posture that looked like they were. I had the impression that many of the defendants, mostly men, had very few resources and this system was doing nothing to help them, or ‘the people.’

We the people think there has got to be a better way.

LAST WEEK IN COURT

OCTOBER 2 - OCTOBER 8

Borough: Brooklyn | Judge: Abena Darkeh

  • An ADA requested $1,500 bail for an employed single mother of three with no priors. She was charged with Assault in the 2nd and was alleged to have elbowed a school safety agent in the chest after a verbal altercation. Despite these details, coupled with the fact that she had waited for the police to arrive after the incident, the ADA deemed her a flight risk. The prosecutor also mentioned having spoken to defense about the accused’s inability to pay bail, this requested amount apparently being a reflection of having agreed to lowering it. Judge Darkeh ROR’d.

  • $2,000 bail was asked for in a case in which a defendant had been described by police as having been extremely cooperative and having demonstrated immediate remorse for her actions. The accused had used a credit card she found in a lost wallet. Once confronted by police at her home, she took responsibility for her actions and returned the wallet back with all of its belongings. Despite these facts, the ADA decided to charge this as a felony. Even as an SSI recipient with no previous warrants, and with her daughter and grandson present in the courtroom, Judge Darkeh set bail at $1,500.

  • An ADA argued for $2,500 bail for a man charged with Public Lewdness, for allegedly masturbating in public. A doctor was present with the defense in order to attest to the defendant’s mental health issues, and to plead that the accused be released into immediate treatment. The public defender further argued that bail should be lowered to $300 at most to better reflect the defendant's income. Judge Darkeh set bail at $1,500.

  • Judge Darkeh called out an ADA for using allegations from a separate incident while attempting to argue for bail, one for which the defendant was not arrested for and not reflected in the charges. She stated that she would take into consideration that the DA had decided not to pursue charges in the incident being described.

Borough: Brooklyn | Judge: Edwards | ADA: Denise Montano

  • ADA Montano argued for $7,500 bail for a man charged with Assault in the 2nd after an altercation with a psychiatrist at a hospital. A full order of protection (OOP) was also requested. The man, who resided in a shelter, needed access to medical treatment at the hospital, which the full OOP would ban him from going to. The PD further argued that it would be in everyone’s best interest if the defendant were ROR’d and given access to city social services. Judge Edwards set $1,000 bail.

Borough: Manhattan | Judge: David Frey | ADA: Devin Barrett

  • ADA Barrett requested $15,000 bail for a black man charged with Burglary in the 3rd, with the ADA citing the man's previous misdemeanors and arguing that the defendant was a “flight risk” because he had “out of state connections.” Although the defense highlighted his nonviolent history and lack of felonies, Judge Frey set $10,000 bail.

  • ADA Barrett asked that $5,000 bail be set for a man caught with driving on a suspended license for the second time. The prosecution stated that bail was necessary because he’d been arrested two years ago by the same officer for the same offense. Newly employed, with four friends present in the courtroom, and with a promise to pay his tickets, Judge Frey ROR’d.

  • ADA Barrett requested $25,000 for a 16-year-old charged with Assault and Robbery. With no criminal record and his mother present in the courtroom, the Judge ROR’d.

  • $15,000 bail was requested for a man alleged to have stolen food items and physically injured a security guard. The defendant had three open cases but no prior convictions. The public defender contested that the guard was overly aggressive and also went on to detail the various ways the in which the client had overcome a very difficult life, pointing out the significant achievements made in spite of it. Judge Frey set bail at $5,000.

Borough: Manhattan | Judge: Martinez Alonso | ADA: Julia Cohen

  • A young black man was offered a plea with a sentence of 90 days in jail for possessing Marijuana and for having a switchblade, both misdemeanor charges. The offer was declined, so ADA Cohen went on to request $3,500 bail. Judge Alonso ROR’d.

  • The ADA then requested $1,500 for another young black male charged with both a Marijuana and misdemeanor weapons charge. The Judge ROR’d.