LAST WEEK IN COURT

MAY 29 - JUNE 04

Watchers' Major Takeaways

  • Prosecutors continue to argue for bail based on defendant’s criminal record or alleged nature of the crime, not on their ability to return to court.
    • Out of all cases observed, prior convictions/arrests was the most cited reason by prosecutors when requesting bail (58.3% of cases), whereas flight risk was only cited in 16.7% of observed cases. Judges most commonly cited the current charge as the reason for setting bail. Defense attorneys most often provided reasoning related to their clients' ties to the community as to why bail should not be set.
  • Bail amounts continue to seem arbitrary.
    • Even under judges that appeared to be ruling favorably towards reasonable bail amounts, there were still cases with minor charges that received high bail amounts. When evaluating judges’ rulings on bail and the type of charges present, clear patterns could still not be found.
    • In one case in Brooklyn, the prosecutor requested bail to be set at $30,000 without any substantial reason as to why that specific number was chosen. There was also no indication as to why the final bail amount was eventually set.
  • Prosecutors do not appear to be knowledgeable on the cases before them.
    • In one specific case, the prosecutor actually stated that she was well prepared for the trial and noted that she possessed a copy of the order of protection that is relevant to the case. However, the public defender disproves this fact and reflects that the prosecutor has the wrong order of protection and is trying to submit to court one that is not even certified.
    • Additionally, in several cases, prosecutors are seen reading off scripts while being unable to provide detailed answers to follow-up questions.
  • High bails are requested for charges with minimal evidence.
    • One watcher witnessed a 17 year-old Black high school student arrested after complaining witness stated that “someone” shot him in the hip.  Student has no priors. Complaining witness could not positively ID the student in a double blind photo array. Police claimed to later witness the student holding a pistol and then fleeing with another individual.   The only identifying information was the color of the shirt the student was wearing and the word of the arresting officer. DA asked for $100,000 bail; judge set bail at $4,000 cash/$6,000 bond.

Reflections from a Watcher

Brooklyn Criminal Court, Room 110
Sunday 10am-1pm

I usually Court Watch on Sundays, and usually in Brooklyn, and I am beginning to feel familiar with room 110 of the Brooklyn Criminal Court. For some reason, the most recent time I was there, I felt extra aware of how sounds from outside on the street made their way into the room every once in a while: loud conversations, squealing brakes, a thumping bass played from a car stereo. There were fewer people seated in the audience than I’ve seen in the past, maybe three or four other people were there, sitting on the hard wooden benches.

During my shift, I was not surprised by much of what I saw. I was frustrated that I did not know, nor know how to obtain, the names of ADAs or of PDs. I could not find that information printed or displayed anywhere. I had to ask the court clerk for the judge’s name, which she patiently spelled out for me. Once proceedings began, I was frustrated at the speed at which cases moved by, as I always am. Often, I was barely able to record the docket number and begin taking notes before Judge Yavinsky made his decision. Charges were rarely announced in a clear cut way, nor were they read in an audible register for the audience.

In cases where the ADA was requesting a large amount of money for bail, the judge would often lower the amount from a ludicrously high number to another, slightly lower, amount. I wondered what Judge Yavinsky’s intention was when he decreased a bail amount from $50,000 to $20,000.

As always, the tone of the room was weirdly casual and dispassionate, and the gravity of decisions being made—often in 2 minutes or less—between the chatting and laughter of court officers, public defenders, and prosecutors was discomforting.