LAST WEEK IN COURT

JANUARY 29 - FEBRUARY 4

1-29-18

  • In one case overseen by Judge Paek in Manhattan, an individual was accused of criminal mischief in the fourth degree (e.g. the damage of property such as graffiti). The individual accused demonstrated a concerted effort to render their criminal justice record indeterminate of future actions. For example, the accused reliably attended sessions with CASES in Brooklyn to learn new skills. The individual has a job offer for a position starting the next day, an important means for them to help support their four teenage children. The defense attorney explained all of this during the bail argument. The ADA requested $10,000 bail, and the judge set $2,500 bail.

1-31-19

  • In one Brooklyn case, a homeless Latinx man was arraigned for assault and aggravated harassment. ADA Needle requested $25,000 bail and Judge Abadi set $5,000 cash bail. Despite his full-time job, the accused looked distressed at the prospect of paying the high bail amount.

  • According to court watchers, Judge Swern seemed lenient, as compared to other cases they’ve seen, toward a middle-aged White man with an out-of-state address charged with operating a vehicle without a license. He had 24 suspended license cases and 2 failures to appear plus 3 misdemeanor convictions from 1996. The ADA offered supervised release but defense attorney argues that “he doesn’t need supervised release...gainfully employed, long-term...has a wife and kids...will go to DMV tomorrow and pay $1,075 in tickets/fines.” Defense argued that offering supervised release at 4:30 pm means that there will not be time to have him interviewed so he would have to spend the night in jail. Judge Swern pauses the case to have him interviewed immediately. He is ROR’d and told “do not drive until the DMV tells you to.”

  • ADA requested $75K bail with 72-hour surety hearing for an individual who allegedly sold cocaine three times to undercover officers. Defense attorney argued that bail was excessive, the accused person has struggled since release and has community ties. According to the defense attorney, ordering the 72-hour surety hearing (to investigate any illicit sources used for bail) is unnecessary because the accused would not be able to raise any amount of bail, saying “The state would be better served helping him get on his feet rather than setting up a situation to lure him back to jail.” According to a court watcher, the judge was unmoved and set bail at $75K with the 72-hour surety hearing.

  • Judge Swern set bail at $500 for a hearing-impaired, homeless, middle-aged Black man charged with various acts of aggressive panhandling, trespassing, and burglary (of a single beverage) at Port Authority. The man had a history of similar minor, non-violent charges. The ADA requested $35K bail because the man was being charged with a felony, considered by the defense as a deliberate “bump-up” from an aggravated misdemeanor. The defense attorney argued for his client to receive an ACD and stated that the $35K bail request was “ridiculous and out of this universe,” and their client could not even afford $50 bail.

2-2-19

  • Judge Gubbay remanded a young White man arrested for petit larceny after his Sept. 2018 release from jail in New York. The accused has fugitive warrants dating back to 2016 but the defense attorney argued that these predate his incarceration and should not be reintroduced now. According to the defense attorney, this is a jurisdictional issue, and is the state’s mistake since the warrants are from New Jersey and the two states should have sorted this out during the man’s incarceration. Judge Gubbay remanded the individual saying, “I know that it is uncomfortable for the defense, but that’s how it is.”


Reflection from a Watcher

On Thursday afternoon in Manhattan the ADA (could not get her name) requested $50,000 bail for an 18 year-old accused of assault (1st and 2nd degree). Two brothers allegedly encountered the teenager outside his housing complex; a fight broke out and he is accused of stabbing both. There is video of the encounter, but it does not show how it began, nor the stabbings. The accused fled and later turned himself in to the police (his family went with him) and the brothers are in the hospital.

The 18 year-old has never been arrested. He has a girlfriend and an 8 month-old baby (who he brings to daycare at his school). He also enrolled himself in the Andrew Glover Youth Program and his advocate from Glover was in court. She said the teen had alerted his program officer at Glover that the brothers had previously threatened him, and that the brothers and their family had been relocated from the housing complex due to multiple complaints. The advocate had also spoken to one of the brothers and was herself threatened.

Judge Anne Swern issued a Temporary Order of Protection. The public defender said she was concerned because yet another brother has issued a “call to arms” and the brothers’ friends have also threatened the defendant. She asks for a Order of Protection for her client. The judge says she cannot legally do this and says the police are good at keeping the area safe. Judge Swern set bail at $25,000.

His mother, father, sister and friends were in the courtroom.


Reflection from Another Watcher

Last Wednesday night, the Brooklyn misdemeanor arraignment courtroom was freezing. There were very few cases and most of the 10 to 15 court officials, police officers, Legal Aid staff, and the ADA spent their time on their phones, chatting, and complaining about the cold. Every once and a while a person was brought in in cuffs and three of the throng, the judge, the ADA, and the Legal Aid lawyer, sprang into action. Nearly all the cases involved some altercation and an order of protection. The others included public urination and peddling without a license. For the orders of protection, Judge DePeyster went through her speech each time, warning the accused he or she couldn't contact the other person "by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other means you can think of". No one was required to post bail and only once did an ADA request it. About half the people got an ACD and the other half received a future court date. Much of the time I couldn't hear the charges and wondered if the accused was equally confused by this mysterious process that thundered past so quickly, yet had such great implications for their lives. Even an order of protection leaves someone homeless, cut off from most of their possessions, perhaps their children, and their familiar neighborhood.

I thought of the millions of taxpayer dollars supporting this enormous enterprise: all the jobs, all the people, all the disruption and humiliation suffered by the accused, all the "due process" and wondered if there wasn't a quicker, easier, non-criminal way to deal with these petty mistakes in people's lives. These minor offenses hardly seemed to justify the huge expensive, burdensome edifice we have built to deal with them.