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Scott Hechinger @ScottHech
, 32 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
Today I’m working the dreaded “double.” I will be in arraignments from now through 1am. Meeting people arrested within last 24-48 hours, arguing for release, working to advise traumatized families on what’s next, individualizing my clients beyond the accusation & criminal record.
2 for 2. When I met with both of my first clients & the conversation turned to bail, the question was rhetorical: “If bail is set, do you or any family have any money?” Their answers, as usual, is inevitable: “I don’t have no money. Not even a dollar.”
About to appear on case where prosecution is asking for $75,000 bail on a case where I believe-strongly-my client is innocent. A serious allegation but transparently false. Allegations of punch to face & strangulation w/ zero injury. Heart beating fast. Don’t want Rikers for him.
Case called. Prosecutor argues seriousness of offense plus my clients "lengthy misdemeanor record" & history of failing to show up to court justify the request to detain my client on Rikers Island, presumed innocent, on bail he cant possibly afford. Judge turns to me. Counselor?
I ask judge for release. First: "Lengthy record" actually points in the opposite direction urged by prosecutor. Not a single violent accusation. 35 convictions were for low-level drug possession. The rest a combo of jumping turnstile & petit larceny. Crimes of poverty. Addiction.
Second: Despite serious allegations, all information before the Court points to a false allegation. A long-term relationship w/ no prior issues. Violent allegations w/ zero injuries (visible or otherwise). A straightforward alleged statement: "We had consensual sex."
Third: Bail can only be set in an amt necessary to ensure return to court. I told judge: You could set $10. My client wouldn't be able to afford it. He's 53, on disability, & in assisted living. The only thing setting *any bail will ensure will be return to court in shackles.
"What's she going to do?" he asked when I was done. "We'll find out soon enough." The judge set bail. $30k if he went to bail bondsman (How would he go while on Rikers even if he could afford to?). Or $15,000 cash. He exhaled deeply as officers lead him cuffed to the back.
What's next? Tomorrow I will file a writ of habeas corpus challenging his bail as constitutionally excessive. Ask another judge to overturn today's decision. If (& likely when) that's denied, case will be on Friday. If complainant doesn't testify in grand jury, he'll be released.
Next: 24 y/o Latino man, spent all money on classes for security license. Arrested & charged w/ entering subway exit gate. As soon as case called, prosecution offer “ACD.” Stay out of trouble for 6 months then dismissal. Why charge at all if prosecution agrees case is worthless?
Remember cost: Arrested 6pm last night. Cuffed, processed, fingerprinted, transported, held in squalor. Nearly 24 hours later, led out to court chain gang style. Retinas scanned. Hauled before a judge. Facing 1 year in jail on a misdemeanor. Only to be *immediately released.*
The exit gate client also had a warrant w/o which he still would have been arrested, criminally charged, but ultimately released from the precinct & given a ticket to come to court weeks from now. The warrant required that he be brought through arraignments. What was warrant for?
...His failure to do 1 day of community service & pay a $120 court surcharge after getting arrested in 2016 for performing on the subway. His wife was in late stage pregnancy at the time. Had to go to the hospital. Was overwhelmed & thought it all would just go way. What a waste.
Next up: 24 y/o victim of domestic violence. Her abuser claimed she attacked him & stole his cell phone, when he was the one who attacked her. Threatened to call police if she didn't come back to him. She wouldn't go so he called. Charged w/ 2d Deg. Robbery. Violent felony.
Prosecution knew something was amiss. She already had an order protecting her from him. She already made multiple reports. They consented to her release. But asked for an order protecting *him. I expressed concern he'd use order as sword not shield. Order still issued for him.
Last client of day shift: 57 y/o man charged w/ stealing money from grocery register late at night. Since his arrest, was hospitalized twice. Recent heart transplant recipient. 16 medications that NYPD wouldnt let him have at arraignments,even after hospital visits. Feared death.
Had him interviewed for "Supervised Release." Allows for release w/ some extra supervision. Eligible bc felony was non-violent. They accepted. Prosecution requested $10,000 bail. Begged judge to take his health into account. Thankfully, she released him under supervision. Phew.
ANDDDDDD night court starts right now. I'll be here till 1am. Don't have any idea what's to come. Took a walk around the courthouse. Went to Apollo Diner across street for *another coffee. Called wife to say hi. Splashed some cold water on my face. Look alive, man. Let's do this.
Made it to the 9 o’clock dinner break. 10 charges. 6 clients. 1/2 won’t be going home tonight. Stuck in on low bail for lowlevel offenses. 2 were severely dope sick. None had any friends or family there (or to call) to support them. All were Black or Latino.
Met 28 y/o homeless man living out of his car. Arrested for driving on suspended license. 7 prior convictions for shoplifting & heroin possession. 4 open warrants for new cases charging him w/ the exact same thing. The justice system is ill-equipped to solve poverty & addiction.
Met 34 y/o charged w/ contempt for violating order of protection by “attempting to hug” the mother of his children, asking whether they could get back together, & calling her a name when she said no. Bail set $1000. He has no money to pay.
Now, this client does have prior charges of violating orders of protection w/ same woman & has current open misdemeanor w/ her. But: He’s been returning to court as required, the allegations in this case are remarkably benign, & no one should be jailed solely bc they’re poor.
I met a true survivor. 18 y/o trans young man living for last 3 years in youth group house. His mom died. Dad is in prison. While living w/ his uncle she was repeatedly raped. She outcried to a family member who found her the current living situation. Her caseworker was in court.
Caseworker was furious. “He keeps fucking up!” I believed he was innocent & told her. Falsely accused of 2d degree robbery for stealing his ex-girlfriends cell phone. I didn’t want him punished more. Prosecution consented to his release. Only then did caseworker believe me.
As I’m writing these tweets realizing that I’m mixing pronouns. Feel terrible about it here & whenever I make a mistake in court. He was actually booked in the female cells & didn’t tell me how he identified. His caseworker informed me. I then asked him. Told me he was a man.
More to report. But need to relax brain for last bit of break. Drinking Thai coffee in Cobble Hill to push me thru next 3 hours. Always feel so out of place in my suit-knowing I need to return to criminal court-among people enjoying drinks & conversation like everything’s normal.
Just tonight my 29 y/o client had to decide between an arrest warrant for failure to pay a $120 automatic court fee he couldn’t afford or “civil judgment” which would give him bad credit for 7 years. He chose bad credit. SF should serve as a model for NY:
Walking back to court & just remembered I promised to grab my dope sick client a candy bar from the vending machine before his case was called earlier & totally forgot to do it. Bail was set & he’s on the way to Rikers. Feel bad.
So upset. 61 y/o frail client w/ HIV. Arrested in March for throwing something at his wife & missing. Missed court back in May. Arrested on warrant today. Spoke w/ wife: No interest in prosecuting. Wants him home. Case *will soon be dismissed.* Bail set. $1500. Heading to Rikers.
He was barely able to stand. When the judge asked him he understood he could barely squeak out “yes, yes your honor.” I asked the judge to order medical attention. But I’m really worried about him. Serious illness & Rikers doesn’t work well.
IMy last client - 21 y/o - had $25,000 bail set. As he was being lead to the back afterward he just kept saying “But I don’t have any money! I can’t afford that. I don’t understand.” I left court thinking: “I know. And me neither.”
16 hours later I’m done. I’m delirious & drained. But as always, I get to go home. To comfort & safety. Thinking of my clients on the bus to “the island” & wishing them health & luck. Tomorrow, the fight to win their release continues. Goodnight.
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