“Bail when requested always seemed punitive -- based on the ‘seriousness’ of crime rather than flight risk”

  • Last week in Brooklyn, a Black man was arraigned on gravity knife possession and gun possession charges. The accused was allegedly double-parked when plainclothes officers in an unmarked vehicle approached and asked for his license, which was suspended. The police alleged they found a gravity knife in the man’s pocket and found a gun in the trunk of the car after the arrest. Court watchers noted that it seemed given the allegations, ADA Langsam requested $20,000 bail. The defense attorney explained that the car didn’t belong to the accused. He was a passenger and the police asked him to move to the driver’s seat to move the double-parked car, and then the police subsequently searched the car. The defense attorney also pointed to the policing practices during the arrest, noting that “the police tactics in this case were bad.” Defense also argued that the police officers seemingly tried to get the accused’s DNA without permission by offering him a water bottle. Judge Novillo set $5,000 cash bail or bail bond/credit card alternative.

  • A Manhattan prosecutor requested $30,000 bail and Judge Paek set $30,000 cash/$15,000 bond on a homeless individual charged with 2nd degree burglary, effectively remanding them.

Guilty Pleas and Jail Alternatives

  • A man was arraigned in Manhattan on two counts of petit larceny for allegedly stealing items from Duane Reade. ADA Roe recommended a plea that would carry a 6-month jail sentence. The man’s public defender explained that their client has been struggling with substance use and trying to get into a program. Judge Paek offered 30 days jail and the accused took the plea, meaning he will spend 30 days in jail (unable to access substance use treatment) on a shoplifting charge.

  • Another man was charged with six counts of petit larceny, also for allegedly stealing merchandise from Duane Reade. ADA Roe recommended a plea to the charge with 9 months jail time. The man took a guilty plea to all charges and Judge Paek sentenced him to 5 sessions of the CASES program with a 30 day jail alternative if he does not complete the program or does not return to prove completion.

Reflection from a Watcher

I’ve been a volunteer with Court Watch NYC since September 2018, since then I have spent about half of my Saturdays sitting in Brooklyn Criminal Court observing arraignments. One of the things that continuously surprises me is the prosecution of the crime “theft of services” aka turnstile jumping in many cases. During a shift in late November, a few days after the first snow of the year, I was sitting in Brooklyn court on yet another Saturday afternoon. That day, I saw several arraignments where the charge was theft of services. One of the cases specifically stood out to me because I recognized the person who was being accused. He is someone that I see regularly in the subway and is often asking for money, stating that he is homeless and needs help. He jumped the turnstile in a Brooklyn subway station. Seeing him being arranged was unnerving. He plead guilty to the crime, was offered time served and was released.

The fact that this man was arrested and that this charge was added to his criminal record, simply because he is an individual who is homeless, is astounding and upsetting. I would imagine that he jumped the turnstile because he was seeking warmth on the subway during or after the snowstorm, because it was too cold and wet for him to stay outside. He harmed nobody and his only “crime” was being homeless. What if, instead of bringing him to the precinct, the arresting officers asked him what type of assistance he needed, or brought him to a shelter or a food bank, or provided him with a metrocard? All of these options would have been significantly cheaper and easier than arraigning and prosecuting him, all over a $2.75 subway ride.