JULY 17 - JULY 23

Watchers' Major Takeaways

This week's #LastWeekInCourt focuses on three different days in Brooklyn Criminal Court. 

July 19, 2018 12:15pm-5pm
Courtroom AR2
Judge Kitsis
ADA Needles

  • No bail requested or set; one person was remanded.
  • In two cases, the judge ordered an Order of Protection (OOP) even though the complaining witnesses didn’t want it. In both, the complaining witnesses were the defendants’ mothers.
    • In one of the cases, the judge set the full OOP requested by the ADA. The defendant was accused of assault and the complaining witness - his mother - didn’t actually want an OOP.  She and the defendant’s outreach worker/mentor from Man Up were in court. The judge explained that the decision can be changed with a written order from family court. Now, the defendant has to go through another process in another court to get the initial decision reversed. If an order from family court could change the outcome, why was this case ever processed in criminal court in the first place?
  • A young graduate of BMCC, now at John Jay College, was accused of selling marijuana. Though the ADA requested one year of probation, the judge sealed the case because the defendant had no prior arrests, is a student receiving financial aid, and aspires to be a homicide detective. At the end of the arraignment, the judge told the defendant not to smoke or sell marijuana if he intends to be in law enforcement.

July 22, 2018  10am-1pm
Courtroom AR3
Judge Tully
ADA Sherman Jones

  • ADA asked for unreasonably high bail in assault cases.
    • In all but one such case, judge set bail close to that requested, offering credit card options for bond.
    • In the case where bail was not set, $2,500 bail was requested for a defendant considered a moderate flight risk even though the person surrendered voluntarily and has lived at their address for 25 years and has ties to their neighbors and friends.
  • ADA requested $1,000 bail for a defendant with 2 FTAs and a misdemeanor record. The defense explained that the defendant has lived at the same address for 54 years, is employed, and part of the Teamsters Union. The last warrant was from 2001 (17 years ago!). The complaining witness called 911 the day after the incident and the defendant turned himself in to the police voluntarily. The judge set bail at $1,000 bond/credit card or $500 cash.
  • ADA claimed that a defendant was a moderate flight risk and asked for $3,000 in bail.  The defendant, who cried throughout the hearing, is a lifelong Brooklyn resident and the sole provider for a 4-year-old who works as a home health aide. The moderate flight risk didn’t seem justified. Bail was set at $1,500 cash or $2,500 bond/credit card.
  • ADA requested $175,000 bail and an OOP for an assault in the first charge. The defense asked for ROR because the defendant is currently working/going to school, has no prior arrests/convictions, and has ties to the community. Judge sets bail at $50,000 bond or $25,000 cash.

July 23, 2018  6pm-9pm
Courtroom AR3
Judge Freier

  • In 13 cases, with charges ranging from assault in the 3rd to turnstile jumping, the DA consented to ROR.
  • On the 7 occasions when bail was requested, it was denied by the judge 4 times and lowered on the other 3 occasions (from $1,500 to $500, $50,000 to $20,000, and $7,500 to $3,000). However, even though the judge technically lowered the bail amounts, the amounts bail was ultimately set were still very likely much more than the accused could afford. In all three cases, the defendants were currently working or going to school, had strong ties to the community, and in one case, it was the accused's first contact with the criminal legal system.
  • In the 7 cases in which the DA requested Orders of Protection, they were indiscriminately granted.
    • On one occasion, a defendant charged with stealing his pregnant girlfriend’s wrist watch was issued a full order of protection, even though his girlfriend did not want an OOP and denied that the alleged crime ever occurred.
    • In another case, a man wanted the charges against his wife dropped and stressed that an order of protection would be very difficult on their children and home situation. And although the couple had no history of domestic violence, the order was still issued.
  • A watcher reflected, “I was struck by the arbitrary nature of who gets prosecuted in domestic disputes (whoever calls the cops first?) and by the complicated relationships between complainants and defendants in these cases. It feels as though there should be a better, more nuanced system to handle these cases other than the criminal justice system, but people seem to call the cops in the absence of an alternate arbitrator.”

Reflection from a Watcher

My first court watch shift on a Wednesday evening in Manhattan after taking a hiatus was a stark reminder that it’s the usual, ordinary, common everyday practices in the courtroom that are outrageous and unacceptable. The truth is that what we are observing is far from exceptional.

It’s normal that many court officers spend their time playing games on their phones while harshly telling family members who are waiting for the arraignments of their loved ones to put their phones away.

It’s normal that 5+ officers started running towards the door within seconds of a public defender asking for help outside the courtroom - once the public defender mentioned that a woman was going through a seizure, several officers slowed down and some seemed disappointed to hear that it was “just a seizure” as they walked back into the room.

It’s normal that an old, poor black man was charged with criminal mischief for throwing a bottle of orange juice on the floor and was presented with the choice between taking a plea bargain and attending a program or going to jail for 10 days. This is supposed to be a favorable outcome. The way the criminal legal system is set up, this man was supposed to grateful to be offered a plea bargain and to get a chance to avoid jail time. Needless to say, he plead guilty. As he was waiting for his paperwork, he got to witness a different arraignment: A white man in his 40s had used a company credit card for more than $30k in personal expenses, including a $3000 vacation. His arraignment was the only one during which judge Heidi Cesare smiled and even had a friendly exchange with his defense attorney. The ADA did not request bail and the defendant was released on his own recognizance.

Under these circumstances, it is hard to perceive the fact that the judge said “good luck” to each defendant after their arraignment as anything but disingenuous.