Watchers' Major Takeaways

Inefficiencies in the courtroom, disparate treatment and broken promises.

  • A Brooklyn courtroom only saw 7 arraignments in 3 hours. It was 2 hours before any cases were arraigned at all.
  • Watchers in Brooklyn noted a disparity in their courtroom experience. As three young white women, some of the police officers and bailiffs went out of their way to be friendly and approach them, but at the same time, addressed defendants and their family members brusquely.
  • Prosecutors in Manhattan went against their own policy by continuing to prosecute Marijuana Possession in the courtroom. Although Judge Karen Gopee and Judge Herbert Moses both dismissed possession cases; under the new policy, these cases shouldn't be getting arraigned in the first place. 

Mental health issues continued to arise and go untreated.

  • In Manhattan, a defendant with a record of theft related cases was charged with Petit Larceny. She was quoted by the ADA as having stated to police that, “I have to steal stuff or I feel anxious.” She was offered 30 days jail. The defense asked that her client receive a sentence that would address her mental health issues. Instead, Judge Gopee set bail at the requested $1,000.
  • In Judge Novillo’s courtroom in Brooklyn, a man was charged with Intimidating a Witness in the 3rd. ADA Langam requested $5,000 bail. The prior criminal history of the accused was cited to justify the high bail. The defense pleaded for a mental health evaluation and for release into a mental health facility. Bail was set at $3,000. Watchers noted in this case that the defendant, who was on crutches, fell while returning to the holding zone. It was stated: “behind closed doors, the incident appeared to escalate, yells were heard, court was paused…the defendant had been recommended for mental health services. We question how well-equipped or trained the police officers are to handle mental health issues.

Watchers detailed two theft related cases in which questionable arrests were made with seemingly little evidence.

  • In one instance, a defendant stood accused of stealing $12 worth of paintbrushes. The defense detailed the incident in which her client, a black man who works in a predominantly white neighborhood, had returned to a hardware store after having purchased a $48 dollar toilet seat. It was upon his return that the owner of the store called police and claimed to have witnessed the accused stealing from his store earlier. In a frustrated outburst, the defendant stated “Why would I go back after stealing?” The ADA agreed to ROR and the judge granted.
  • A 26-year-old man with no criminal record stood charged with Robbery in the 3rd. He was accused of punching a man in his face and stealing his watch. Although the victim sought medical attention, no one at the hospital called 911. The victim then called the police a day later, claiming to have spotted the man who robbed him. No property was recovered off the defendant and the defense claimed to have a witness to corroborate her client’s story. With numerous ties to the community, a stable residence, no criminal record, a current job prospect and his girlfriend present, the judge agreed to ROR. 

Two other stand out cases.

  • A complicated domestic dispute case was observed in a Brooklyn courtroom. While the ADA described a very violent incident, the defense claimed it was heresy. The judge’s paperwork stated that an Order of Protection was already in place from a family court case. Neither side knew about its existence nor was its validity able to be confirmed, pointing to the detrimental inefficiency within the whole system. The defense claimed that the charges had been revenge on the part of the girlfriend of the accused, who now regretted having him arrested and with whom she shared children with. The judge showed a lot of concern for the children involved. While she did grant a temporary order of protection, she addressed the defendant and suggested he immediately go to family court in order to be able to have access to his children.  She exhibited a sense of humanity too rarely witnessed within the justice system.
  • ADA Tziyonah M. Langam requested 20k bail for a 20-year-old black male college student charged with Criminal Possession a Firearm. He had never been arrested before and had 10 people present in the courtroom to support him. Judge Edwin Novillo set $2,500 credit card bail.