A thin, dark-haired woman wearing a red flowered dress perched on a dark wooden bench, rocking back and forth, a concerned look expressed across her face. Amid the high ceilings and dark wooden paneling, the woman appeared small compared to the power of the criminal justice system at 100 Center St. in downtown Manhattan.
She was there waiting for an arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court. This court processes arraignments, ensuring defendants are charged in front of a judge within 24 hours of their arrest. In order to process the 80,000 arraignments that happen in a given year on Manhattan alone, Night Court runs for 5 p.m. to at least 1 a.m. seven days a week.
Additionally, Night Court has become a popular tourist attraction, given its uniqueness to NYC and the popularity of crime entertainment. The security guard at the front entrance inquires where visitors are from, suggesting Europe. While it may be a draw for tourists, those being arraigned did not come by choice to this destination.
Night Court’s arraignments usually take a matter of minutes. The charges are stated, the prosecutor and defense attorney make their arguments, the judge makes a decision, and it is onto the next case.
Some defendants have no criminal history, while others are repeat offenders, which weighs against them. In one case, The People asked for $150,000 bail based on the defendant’s history of violent felonies. The man’s attorney argued that the defendant is working in construction full time and has a three-months pregnant wife in the courtroom. However, these personal facts did not sway the judge. As the judge announced he was to remain in jail, the man looked back at his wife, silently shaking his head with a look of defeat.
The judge on this particular night was Judy Kim, the first Korean-American to hold a seat on the NY bench. She has high expectations, ensuring arraignments run efficiently. Kim said, “It’s already 7:30 and we’ve done four cases, that’s unacceptable,” to her courtroom full of police officers, lawyers, and staff.
While the arraignments did quicken following this reprimand, not all those working in the courtroom were inclined to work hard. One employee could be seen taking trivia quizzes and watching fight-scene YouTube videos as his screen faced away from the honorable judge. He remained unphased when one defendant became loud and aggressive, needing several officers to take him out of the courtroom.
While many defendants do not walk away from their arraignment free, others are more fortunate, depending on the charges. Sporting a white and green baseball tee, a beard and glasses, one defendant, charged with stealing a mountain bike, was released after his arraignment by paying bail. He briskly walked to the back of the courtroom where he took the red-flower clad woman’s hand and the two departed the courtroom, smiles spread across their faces.