Overall Trends:

  • One question that often comes up with court watchers after orders of protection are issued: where do accused people go after receiving an order of protection? If they lived with the person they are now prohibited from contacting, where do they live during that time before the next court date? It seems as though this is not a concern of the court, but it can have huge effects on someone's safety, ability to be reached, and financial stability. Court watchers note that orders of protection are a very common condition of release, and rarely does a court watching session go by without an order of protection being issued.

  • One court watcher noted how the inconsistencies in the judge's decisions disrupt the very notions of "justice," and questioned whether judges approach each case with fairness. A number of court watchers also noted that last week, many judges seemed to be harsher when setting bail. There were a few cases where the judge recognized the accused clearly wouldn't be able to afford the high bail requested by the prosecution. For example, on December 16th in Brooklyn, ADA Hagler requested $25,000 bail on a drug possession charge and Judge Cohen explained $25k was clearly excessive and released the individual.

  • In Brooklyn, the calendar was not up to date in the courtroom. A court watcher inquired about it and was asked "who are you here to see?" When the court watcher replied, "No one, I'm here with Court Watch", the court employee said "ugh not again." The calendar was eventually printed and posted.

  • An accused person in Brooklyn accidentally addressed the judge instead of their lawyer. A court watcher observed, "whenever this happens the room gets palpably tense" and judges have a variety of reactions. “Some get visibly annoyed, some verbally condescending or mean. A few understand that defendants are confused about the rules of the courtroom or seeking clarification.”

Reflection from a Watcher

The two biggest words that come to mind that describe my time watching arraignments are inaccessibility and inefficiency. Firstly, inaccessibility: I have had the privilege of a higher education and am a native English speaker, and the majority of the proceedings of the courtroom were completely over my head. To echo the sentiments of other watchers, everything moves at an alarmingly fast rate. On average, the cases I saw lasted under two minutes. That’s devoting 120 seconds to determine the outcome of someone’s life. That’s how long it takes to microwave popcorn! In the amount of time you microwave a bag of popcorn, someone’s future has just been altered forever. And it’s wild at how mundane it seems to everyone in there. I understand that people that work in particular fields that handle sensitive topics need to develop a certain ability to compartmentalize, but it at least comes across as a total lack of empathy. All the legal jargon, penal codes, and different names and titles that the DA and the judge throw around are extremely disorienting. And, in addition to my privileges of education and language, I have the further luxury of not waiting to hear the outcome of my life. I can’t imagine the emotions and anxiety that the arraigned person is also dealing with in those moments as they are being moved through a system that is not designed to help them.

As for the inefficiency in the courtroom: my last shift started at 6pm. I got there around 5:45, and the first arraigned person I saw was not until about 7:05pm. Why on earth are they giving only 120 seconds to each person and then doing nothing for almost an hour and a half? Secondly, there were about 20 people in the courtroom (employees, not the public). I only heard maybe 5 of them speak. Why are that many people necessary in the arraignments and what exactly are they doing? It also seems that with that many people doing theoretically administrative court work, that the calendar posted outside the courtrooms could be accurate.