A Night at Night Court

A Night at Night Court

It’s been said that there is no rest for the wicked, and every night at 100 Centre Street, downtown Manhattan, that theory is being put to the test.

On any given day, our city may see close to one hundred arrests in the borough of Manhattan alone. In an effort to docket and determine all these cases within 24 hours, the arraignment court at New York County’s District Attorney’s Office has had to rethink its day-to-day schedule. ‘Night court’ runs until roughly 1a.m., dragging through it every drug dealer, car jacker and turnstile jumper this city can get its hands on.

Room 130 is a stuffy, unwelcoming space with dreary interiors. Dark wooden panels adorn the walls, dark wooden desks sit at the front of the room and dark wooden pews provide seating for family members, journalists and tourists in the back. The room is feebly lit, mimicking the drowsy movement of our eyes as the late hours draw on.

On the other side of a dark wooden rail, an army of lawyers, stenographers, clerks and assistants hurry about. Twelve or so police officers are in the room at any given time, chatting amicably amongst one another while keeping an eye on both the audience and the accused. In the back corner of the room sits a kind of holding pen for defendants. On this October night, some agitatedly tap their foot, as if standing in line. For them, this is a familiar inconvenience. Others glance up repeatedly at the back door, anxiously awaiting their mother, father or spouse to enter with that disappointed look that has become almost routine. Others simply take the time to catch up on some sleep; body slumped, mouth open, they seemed oddly at ease.

First up is a man dressed all in black, hands cuffed behind his back. His charges are read out by the Assistant District Attorney in a low, inaudible drone, which comes to set the tone for this evening’s events. Throughout the night, the back rows have to strain to catch even a word, acting as a reminder that we are watching reality, not reality TV.

Amongst the monotonous drones, however, a sudden shift can occur.

Two young Hispanic males step up before Judge Guy Mitchell, both accused of dealing drugs and arraigned together. Defense lawyer Howard Greenberg stands with his client, the older-looking of the two. Greenberg, with almost 4,000 defense cases to his name, has gained a reputation for fearless tactics and indomitable spirit. Without hesitation, he is quick to shoot the accusations down – they are “a preposterous narrative”, a load of “bullsh*t”. Perhaps it’s his demanding presence, his convincing argument or simply the late hour of the evening, but Mitchell does not interrupt.

Soon, however, things take a turn.

“Your Honor, it is my professional opinion that this is the most corrupt state police patrolling our highways,” roars Greenberg. A touchy subject at the best of times, and today is not the best of times. Only 24 hours before, the arraignment of an accused cop killer took place in this very building. The courtroom was packed with angry, grief-stricken policemen and family members. Tonight, then, Greenberg’s comments seem a little close to home, and the audience holds its breath. The cops take a sideways glance at one another, their annoyance palpable. But Greenberg gets to finish.

Mitchell turns to the ADA for a response. “There’s more I could say but I won’t,” he declares, and the defendants are led out the back doors. The bail has been reduced, but not by much: $225,000 between them. Greenberg seems pleased.

As the hours lumber on, a man asleep in the back corner wakes to face his nightmares. Hands behind his back, casual dress, face down, he stands before the judge. “The defendant has entered a guilty plea, is that correct?” “Yes Your Honor.” No need to go into any detail about his charges, then. Justice done, and in under two minutes. With nothing more to say, the defendant turns to shuffle out through the back door. But not before turning to the judge: “Hasta la vista,” he says. Until next time.

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