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Full suit and tie & heading out to court tonight till 1am. On way out of building, a number questioning where I was headed. “On a Saturday night?” Court is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year, 8am-1am. Overpoliced communities don’t get a reprieve.
“A gravity knife arrest” became synonymous w/ arresting mostly Black or Latino men for carrying work knives used in service level jobs. Fortunately, decriminalized this past year. But stop & frisk still continues no matter the holiday.
No. The point is there are far too many people, in predominately Black & Latino neighborhoods, over policed which leads to so many arrests that the courts have to be open all the time. The solution: shrink the system. Less things criminalized. Less police.
You’re consenting to release right?

No. $10k bail.

But allegation is 5 yrs old. He’s living in a shelter. No arrests since. On SSI.

I’m sorry.

But he can’t afford $10 let alone $10k. Supervised release?

I’m sorry we just can’t.

But you can. That’s the thing.

I’m sorry
Me: But he’s recommended for release. Data shows 87 out of 100 return. Stable housing. Last failure to appear was 10 years ago on a subway turnstile jump case. Has a 4 month old baby. Has a housing appointment on Tuesday. Rikers? Really?

Them: I’m sorry.
Fortunately, the judge was reasonable & overruled the prosecution. Ordered this man’s release. Grateful. A positive start to the night. He’ll come back to court. Be with his family. Keep his housing. And save NY taxpayers thousands of dollars ($6475/wk) Rikers would have cost.
And just like that, the judge sets bail on next case. This time: Prosecution consented to release. 2 open petit larcenies he failed to appear on. Low level misdemeanors. Crimes of poverty. His attorney told judge his wife had been in hospital. Didn’t matter. Rikers bound.
Less than 2 weeks from now, judges will be required to release people for crimes of poverty under new bail laws. So these arraignments are last opportunities for costly, violent, ineffectual cruelty. Jail will do nothing to deter poverty that drove his “crime.” Will make worse.
Snapshot: Hallway of court. A 3 year old baby girl. Drawing on a folded piece of paper her mother gave her. The court bench is her workspace. Her mother looks down. Long face. She’s waiting for a loved one to see a judge. Her baby has no idea where she is. Fortunate innocence.
It is a slow night. Very few cases coming through. A good thing. There are so many employees here in the courtroom doing nothing right now. Current count: 21. 5 defense attorneys. 2 NYPD. 6 court officers. 2 interpreters. 1 court reporter. 1 judge. 3 prosecutors. 1 clerk.
Snapshot: The bail window outside of court that approves & processes money for freedom is adorned with Christmas decorations, silver paper snowflakes & trees, & blinking, colorful lights. There’s a sign hanging in view on a file cabinet w/ “Celebrate Everything!” in cursive.
Woman begging judge right now. Crying hysterically. Asking for chance to appear in drug court.

“Please ma’am! Please! I’ll show up on Monday! I’ll do anything!”

“I need to make sure you’re going to be there. Bail is $500.”

“Wait, she’s setting bail? I can’t afford any bail!”
Things picked up majorly after this (☝️) tweet. Dozens of cases suddenly came thru post dinner. Stacks of paper representing human beings. Triage. Sorting those who would definitely be released for immediate, faster interviews. And those that’d take more time. Collegues divided.
3 men charged with lowlevel misdemeanors who’d be held around 24 hours were offered pleas & “time served.” Desperate to go home, they’d take it, but add to their criminal records, & have to waive automatic surcharges that would then become liens against their credit for 7 years.
The majority of cases were misdemeanors w/ either a plea or prosecutor consenting to release. Most felonies too—as has long been the case in Brooklyn—prosecution consented to release. For those fearmongering about bail changes creating mayhem, look to Brooklyn. No mayhem.
Felonies by & large are not the kind of “serious” cases most have in mind. Even most “violent” felonies. Burglaries are usually people in need of help taking packages from a lobby. Robberies are usually people known to each other fighting & then grabbing a cell phone after.
When released instead of jailed: People stay w/ their families, avoid the violence of jail, keep their jobs, remain in housing, save taxpayer money, allow for better access to work w attorneys, get better care outcomes, including treatment, & overwhelmingly come back to court.
Last night every single person I represented went home. Most with the consent of the prosecutor. Everyone will be with their families for the holidays. It’s smart. Outcomes will be better for everyone. Public safety will be improved too.
Despite “good” ultimate outcomes, the process to get there is so traumatic. Thinking of the man I met laying facedown in the floor in the back, one arm outstretched handcuffed to a metal chair, the other holding a gross sandwich they provided.
I’m thinking about the man who almost had bail set for failure to pay $80 fine. He had $50 in his wallet. Judge wouldn’t let him walk down the hall to pay it. Didn’t trust he would. So they asked me to run his money to the cashier while they held him in the back. Got it done.
I’m thinking of the man who was certain he’d be sent to jail, leave his wife & children alone w/o their sole breadwinner, lose his hard won job (despite his prior incarceration) of two years, & the shuddering exhale he took when he realized he was getting released. Traumatizing.
Thinking of the mother who screamed at her 19 year old child who was released after a first time arrest when he shook another man’s hand who he’d been sitting with for hours in those cells after being released. “Don’t you dare shake his hand! You think you’re all tough now!?”
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