01.21.19On a freezing day in Manhattan, a 30-year-old woman was arraigned on multiple charges: second degree assault and two misdemeanors. The ADA did NOT request bail and yet Judge Paek imposed it - $1,000 for the felony, $1,000 for one misdemeanor, and $1 for the second. The accused’s public defender was visibly shocked.

01.22.19 Judge Drysdale requested that the ADA offer 2 days of community service in lieu of a Stoplift program for an 18-year-old Latinx woman arraigned on charges of petit larceny and resisting arrest. The Stoplift program requires accused people to pay for the program and would have been prohibitively expensive for the young woman. The accused woman plead to a lesser charge (disorderly conduct violation), but Judge Drysdale cautioned the woman that if she shows up late to community service, she could receive a sentence of 15 days jail.

01.23.19A young Black man was arraigned on charges of felony possession and sale of a controlled substance in Manhattan. The ADA, Christopher Rivet, requested $25,000 bail. The defense attorney argued that although the charge was a B felony for intent to sell, the complaint did not actually indicate sale, it only indicated misdemeanor possession. The public defender argued that any bail would effectively be a remand, and argued for their client to be released on his own recognizance. Judge Paek set bail at $10,000 bond or $5,000 cash bail.

A Latinx man was arraigned in Manhattan on charges of forgery in the second degree. ADA Rivet requested $3,000 bail. The defense attorney argued that the accused be released on his own recognizance given that the man was gainfully employed and the sole financial provider of his child, and that the complaining witness has no desire to pursue the case. Judge Paek set bail at $6,500 bond/ $3,000 cash.

01.26.19In Manhattan, a young Black man wished to conduct pro se defense on a drug possession charge. Judge Clynes cautioned the accused about self representation and denied the motion, stating that he would be represented by his attorney today. The accused man asked to have his rights read. His case moved to second and then third call, both times he was forcibly removed from the courtroom and judge did not permit the accused to speak on his own behalf. Two Court Watchers felt that denying the man any agency in his own defense escalated his seeming animosity and unwillingness to cooperate.

01.27.19In Brooklyn, a 40-year-old Black man was arraigned on criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree (a misdemeanor). The ADA offered a conditional discharge; Judge Hecht suggested instead that the accused be sent to Misdemeanor Brooklyn Treatment Court (MBTC), based on the charges and the man’s record, noting that the accused seemed to have “fallen off the wagon.”

For a case involving operation of a vehicle with a suspended license in Brooklyn, the ADA consented to releasing the accused, a Black man in his 20’s, on his own recognizance. Judge Hecht asked, “Can’t we just resolve this case?” and suggests downgrading the charge to a violation and a $75 fine. The ADA disagrees because there was an accident, but the defense attorney notes that there are no allegations of an accident in the complaint. The judge released the accused on his own recognizance.

Reflection from a Watcher

When I arrived for my shift in Brooklyn, I was very surprised how casual everyone who worked in the courtroom was. Judge Rodriguez looked relaxed and chatted with other employees, and guards stood around and joked with each other. In comparison, it was so clear that everyone who had a family member or friend who was going to be arraigned looked scared and concerned. The difference in attitude was striking. I suppose that if this is your job and you see it day in and day out you have to find a way to be more relaxed about it, but when you think about how much arraignments mean to people on an individual level, and on a societal mass-incarceration level, it felt bewildering.

The case I remember most struck me because it was very sad. They brought up an old, small Black man who seemed like he didn’t have the capacity to hurt a fly. I don’t know if I’m saying that right, but what I’m trying to convey is that it was clear he was a danger to no one. There’s just no way. Judge Rodriguez seemed almost annoyed at this case. He asked the man if he’d been arrested at a deli for stealing a...Rita? “What’s a Rita?” the judge asked. “It’s a Lime-a-Rita,” the man’s defense attorney said. The absurdity of having to explain to the judge what a Lime-a-Rita is? And then the judge confirmed that it was only one can. The thought of this small, old man walking into a deli and taking a freaking Lime-a-Rita, and then having to spend the night in jail? Surely, something is broken here. The man plead guilty, received time served, and was allowed to go. But it was just so stupid. The system lacks basic human compassion. Obviously I wasn’t there when he took the can, but he certainly didn’t deserve a night in jail and a record for taking a Lime-a-Rita.