LAST WEEK IN COURT

AUGUST 21 - AUGUST 27

A few cases from last week

  • ADA Meghan Dunigan requested $5k bail for a black male defendant charged with assault in the third degree. Defense argued defendant had ties to community and was both working and going to school. Even though the defendant had to pick up his child at 3 pm that day from school (and the child is not co-parented with anyone else), judge still set bail at $2k.

  • ADA Meghan Dunigan requested $5k bail for black male defendant charged with assault in the third degree. Defendant had an open warrant for the same charge. Defense argued defendant was indigent and unable to pay bail. Judge set bail at $2,500.

  • ADA Meghan Dunigan requested $7,500 bail for a black female defendant charged with assault in the second degree. It was the defendant’s first arrest, the defendant had family/friends in the courtroom, and she was eligible for Mental Health Court Advocacy monitoring, judge denied defense’s request for release on her own recognizance and set bail at $2500.

  • Defendant was charged with a misdemeanor for aggravated harassment in the second degree. Defendant tried to speak directly with the judge but was denied. An example of how defendants have their freedom of speech restricted in court and cannot participate in their own defense.

  • Defendant was charged with attempted petit larceny and possession of “burglary tools.” Any tool could be a burglary tool. Even the ADA Meghan Dunigan quoted the defendant’s explanation of his possession of a crow bar, “I use this for work.”

  • ADA Meghan Dunigan requested $750 bail for white male defendant charged with “possession of weapon,” in this case, some type of razor blade or box cutter. This defendant has no criminal record but three failures to appear in court. Defense said that in prior discussions, ADA Dunigan had consented to ROR but switched at the last minute to requesting bail, so the defense had no time to prepare. Judge released the defendant on his own recognizance.

  • An elderly Latino man pled guilty to Petit Larceny and Possession of Stolen Property after allegedly stealing 10 bags of frozen shrimp from Whole Foods. He was sentenced to the CASES program with a 15-day jail alternative.

  • Judge Herbert Moses denied an elderly Latino man an Access Order to retrieve belongings from his own home after the defendant had violated a previous Limited Order of Protection against his roommate. The accused, currently charged with Harassment in the 2nd, was the leaseholder of the apartment and was accused of making threats against his roommate. The defense stated to the judge, “You are basically making my client homeless with no personal property.” The judge repeatedly answered, “He can make alternative arrangements.”

  • A black man was charged with Grand Larceny in the 3rd after allegedly stealing a $4,000 handbag from Saks. The man had been released from a drug program 4 days before the alleged incident, was currently homeless and was awaiting sentencing on another case. The defense stressed that his client could not afford any bail. ADA Meaghan Dunigan requested $60k bail, Judge Herbert Moses granted $30k.

  • ADA Meaghan Dunigan requested $1,000 bail for a man arrested for kicking a radio in a police precinct. He was present at the precinct to help the police identify a suspect. Judge Moses ROR’d.

  • ADA Dunigan requested $50k bail for a Latino man charged with Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 7th. The accused had allegedly snatched a gold chain off of someone’s neck and had been found with a crack pipe in his pocket when arrested. The defense highlighted that her defendant had been stopped and searched by the police without any probable cause. Judge Moses granted $25k bail.  

  • During one three-hour shift in court, out of the cases where court watchers recorded the gender of the accused (51 total), 88% of accused people were men and 12% were women. Out of the cases in which court watchers recorded the race of the accused (48 total), 64% were Black, 19% were White and 17% were Latinx.


Reflection from a Watcher

This system seems hopelessly ill equipped to handle the bodies it claims dominion over. This was apparent to me on day one, when an attorney called into the courtroom I was attending for help from court officers. A dozen sprung up immediately and bolted towards the door until the attorney noted “someone is having a seizure”, when then all but one or two of those officers turned around, almost disappointed, perhaps realizing their training prepared them to deal with bodies in a very different way than helping someone in need.

This was made apparent to me again, when a man in an interview room became frantic over a 32 year old warrant that was about to prevent his release. “32 years!”, he yelled over and over again, until he sprawled out on the floor inside the interview room and the judge casually left the courtroom. There, another detained person on the bench pointed out to the court officers that the man in the interview room had asthma, and was hyperventilating. So they took the man back into the Tombs, where he immediately started throwing up, and an enraged court officer brought him a trash can. Twenty or so minutes after the man went behind the closed door to the Tombs, and the judge had returned, medics passed through the courtroom. “Twenty minutes for medical attention for an asthma attack?,” I thought to myself.

I find many of the court workers to be callously engaged in their personal conversations while this all is going on, and my hand is covering my mouth, agape. I suppose I can’t blame them, this is how one adapts to seeing this sort of thing every day. But still, these detained people have been brought here under the state’s discretion. The state wants them here, and therefore should be responsible for what that entails. In the outside world that often requires tremendous networks of support from families and friends, that allow us to stay alive and functioning each day with each other’s aid. That’s the burden that the state seems to accept, and then neglects, when sweeping people up in such a system.

And for some, their very act of survival is how they end up here. An elderly, thin, black man goes before the stand to accept a plea for petit larceny and is read the diatribe of guilt that he must admit to for the plea to be sufficiently accepted. When the judge asks, “Do you have anything else to say?” her diatribe is unexpectedly interrupted by “I was hungry” from the man, referencing the sausages he allegedly stole.