We are pleased to present another excerpt from the new issue of the only, the inimitable, monthly undergraduate magazine of this fine university: The Blue and White. In this piece, B&W contributor Luca Marzorati, CC ’15, describes his experience spending night after night at a midtown night court. He witnessed the arraignments of some regular NY criminal celebrities, including the recent shooting at Bryant Park and attempted rape in Fort Tryon Park. Read all about it below.
22 year-old Hispanic male, charged with attempted robbery and assault in the third degree.
Illustration by Zane Bhansali, CC 17
He’d had a long day. 15 hours ago he’d swung by a friend’s house to pick up a DVD. He stopped in a bodega to get a bag of cigarette tobacco. The cashier told him that the store didn’t have loose tobacco. The man became angry, reached behind the counter, and grabbed at the register. The cashier pulled out a hammer and struck him in the head—his face is now caked with dried blood. This morning, he sat for an hour in the first row of the courthouse gallery of 100 Centre Street, hands cuffed tight, head down. This was his second trip downtown in two weeks. Ten days ago he caught a petty larceny, his first offense, a light punishment. Now, he was looking at a felony. The fight was on video. He didn’t even bother running from the bodega. He thought the cops would arrest the cashier. Indictment and conviction means up to four years in prison. It had been a rough ten days.
You notice the coats first. The steady parade of defendants marched into New York Criminal Court are dressed in faded, puffy coats, too heavy for the early fall. Many of them were picked up in the early hours of the morning, in subways, buses, or off the street. They bear the marks of urban poverty: few family or community ties, no money or home address, and rap sheets rife with petty crimes—trespassing, shoplifting, unlawful solicitation.
This is night court. A few courtrooms at 100 Centre Street, the hub of criminal-justice in Manhattan, stay open late. Night court is not for trials, but arraignments—the formal proceeding at which the defendant is informed of his charges. Because defendants can be arraigned at any point within 48 hours of their arrest, the court is open every day of the year, with up to 17 hours of arraignments punctuated only by the judge’s dinner break. Arraignments are over in a flash, ending with a (usually) court-appointed defense lawyer exchanging paperwork with a rookie prosecutor.
The two dozen professionals working here have seen it all. Nothing fazes them. A clerk pulled me aside one night, and told me as much: there had been suicides, babies born behind bars, defendants trying to flee. He gets the autographs of the celebrities who pass through: Dominique Strauss-Khan, 50 Cent. A lawyer for the city skims TIME Magazine in between appearances; public defense lawyers, their salaries a fraction of their private sector counterparts, grow out their beards in defiance. Everything in this room feels performative.
The lawyers huddle around a few desks on either side of the room between cases—defense on the left, prosecutors on the right—looking over documents and bantering. Only when the bailiff calls a case do they play the lawyer, deadening their visage and donning a jacket. At any time, half the people in the room are police: NYPD, New York Courts, Department of Homeless Services. Everyone is packing heat. Some of the defendants plead guilty. Many are “ROR’d”—released on their own recognizance.
Please! Your Honor!