LAST WEEK IN COURT

JULY 24 - JULY 30

Watchers' Major Takeaways

Two Stand Out Cases

$25,000 bail was requested for a 15-year-old boy charged with Robbery. The defense cited that the lack of violence, the insignificant financial loss ($100), and the presence of the defendant’s mother in the courtroom should justify a lower bail. After inquiring about what amount the family could pay, the Judge granted $2,500 bond/$500 cash/credit card bail.  (Brooklyn, Judge Novillo)

A woman was charged with Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle after allegedly sideswiping another car while making a turn. The defendant had no previous arrests or money owed to the DMV. The complainant claimed to be experiencing neck pain from the incident. The judge asks why the DA has no offer or recommendation for this incident of low stakes. The defendant is ROR’d, so she will have to continue to appear in court for her car accident.  (Brooklyn, Judge Espinal ADA Sienna Langston)

Domestic Disputes

A man was charged with Aggravated Criminal Contempt for violating an order of protection against the mother of his children and allegedly pushing her. The defendant was enrolled in a counseling program, was fully employed and had no Failures To Appear, all factors that lend incentives for returning to court, as argued by the public defender. The couple had a history of Domestic Incident Reports (DIR) and all of the defendant’s prior convictions involved the same complaining witness, indicating that the courts solutions have done little to deter or mediate conflicts between the two parties. $50k bail was request, $40k/$40k was granted. (Brooklyn, Judge Espinal ADA Sienna Langston)

A woman was charged with Assault in the 3rd in a domestic dispute with her husband. Her husband did not want to press charges and stated that he would not have filled out a DIR had he known she would be charged. The couple had no history of DIR’s. The defense argued that an Order of Protection (OP) would unnecessarily disrupt their lives, a full OP was granted regardless.

The DA requested 4k bail for a man charged with Assault in the 3rd after a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. Multiple warrants were cited as a reason to justify the high bail. The warrants were then revealed to be a noise ticket, a disorderly conduct ticket and a reckless driving ticket. The defense argued that bail was unnecessary because her client had many incentives to resolve this case, including maintaining custody of his children. She also stressed that he was fully employed and fully denied the incident. The judge denied credit card bail and set cash bail at $2,500. (Manhattan, Judge Clynes)

A 22-year-old woman was charged with Criminal Mischief after a domestic dispute with her mother. Her mother, as the complaining witness, was present in the courtroom and did not want to press charges, claiming the incident had been distorted. An Order of Protection was instated regardless.

Under Cover Officers and Drug Cases

A man was charged with Assault in the 2nd and Possession of Marijuana after a dispute with a plainclothes officer who pulled him over on his motorcycle. The defendant claimed he only hit back after the officer pushed him. The officer meanwhile stated that he picked the defendant out of a group of convened motorcyclists for “seeming intoxicated.” The defense stated that video of the incident would completely exonerate her client and that as a sole provider for his family he would lose his job if he had to miss work. The DA meanwhile deemed him a “flight risk” for living in New Jersey and cited a 2004 conviction and a parole violation as reason for 20k bail. 5k/5k was granted.  (Brooklyn, Judge Espinal ADA Sienna Langston)

A woman was charged with Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the 3rd after an undercover “buy and bust” transaction in which the officer solicited $45 worth of crack cocaine from the defendant. The defendant is enrolled in both a MICA and STEPS program in which she meets with a counselor daily. The defense asks the judge to consider ROR since she involved in programs that are helping to address her substance dependency. The DA requests $7,500. $5,000 was set by the judge. (Brooklyn, Judge Espinal ADA Sienna Langston)

In the same courtroom, a defendant with a private attorney was charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 3rd, after plainclothes officers in an unmarked vehicle claimed to have witnessed the defendant make a transaction. The police recovered $247 from the defendant along with a bag-containing heroin, Xanax and cocaine from a restaurant where they claimed watched the defendant hide the stash. The man was fully employed and had family present in the courtroom. $15k bail was requested. The defendant was ROR’d.

The DA requested $25k bond/$12,500 cash bail for a 53-year old woman charged with Criminal Possession in the 3rd. As a mother with a 13-year-old son to care for, she had no trouble with the law for the last 18 years. The judge agreed to ROR.

Unreasonable Bail

The DA asked for $100,000 bail for a man accused of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the 2nd. A 30-year-old manslaughter conviction and a 1999 warrant were cited as the reasoning. The weapon was stun gun and the defense claimed that there was no proof that it was his or that the search warrant was valid. The defense attorney also claimed that her client had been denied access to an attorney. $50k bail was granted.  (Brooklyn, Judge Clynes)

$20,000 bail was requested for a man accused of stealing 1k worth of merchandise from Barney's. The DA claimed the defendant’s prior convictions as justifications. The defense detailed that the accused had long history of drug addiction and that “It’s really sad to see drug addiction prosecuted.” He’d been sober for 8 months prior to this incident and was awaiting a bed in a detox facility prior to his recent relapse. Bail was set at $10,000.  (Brooklyn, Judge Clynes)

The DA asked for $50,000 bail for Burglary and Criminal Possess of a Knife, citing a 2010 charge as reasoning. The defense stated that the charge should be a misdemeanor and that the DA overcharged and was using bail as leverage. $25,000 bail was set.


Reflection from a Watcher

Based on the reports I've read on the blog from other watchers, I expected a much harsher atmosphere in the courtroom for my first shift. There seems to be a big difference between morning and evening. Judge Moses was kind and thorough and treated each defendant like a person when explaining what a guilty plea meant, he was polite to the defense attorneys and court staff. The court staff were also quite friendly, helping the defendants who had plead to community service figure out where to go and what to do next. The audience was mostly empty except for persons with desk appearance tickets. The DAT officer was very helpful to someone who had come to the wrong courtroom.

However, almost every charge did not seem to represent harm to the community and most were related to poverty in some way. Therefore, while the particular judge and the particular court officers on this particular day were fair and kind to the defendants, the unfairness happens at the point of arrest. In addition, when setting the court dates for those released on their own recognizance the judge only took into account the defense attorney's schedule, never the defendant's. This compounds the unfairness of the arrest, since mostly poor, mostly non-white people are arrested. If someone is presumed innocent, they should be able to weigh in on when their trial will be.