Queens Criminal Court is Poised to Change the System for Arraigning Desk Appearance Ticket Cases
In the never ending search for improvement in the Desk Appearance Ticket procedures in New York City, Queens Criminal Court is looking to bring DAT arraignments completely back into the main Criminal Court building. Lately, the procedure has been for people with Desk Appearance Tickets in Queens to report on Fridays to a courtroom nearby in Borough Hall where pink summons matters are heard. During the beginning of the week, Desk Appearance Ticket arraignments in Queens were held in the main arraignment courtroom, while regular "through the system" arraignments were delayed for the DAT cases.
On Fridays, regular, "through the system" arraignments tend to spike in numbers, and so the Court shifted those DAT cases to the Borough Hall courtroom across the street from the main Queens Criminal Court building.
In theory, this would be good for everyone because the Judge in the Borough Hall building could devote full attention to the DAT arraignments without needing to be concerned about ever increasing numbers of regular arraignments backing up and delaying current arrestees.
In practice, however, the Fridays in Borough Hall solution has turned out to be something of a problem for some practical reasons. Among those reasons is that the entrance to the Borough Hall Courtroom was small and contained only one metal detector. This created a long line for the busy DAT days on Fridays, and caused several logistical headaches. In addition to the limited space and limited ability of the court staff to move people quickly through just one metal detector, this created problems for lawyers whose clients were on line. It would often be the case that there were lawyers in the Courtroom (who can walk through security with their court IDs) waiting for clients to make it through the long line. It made for an inefficient system when those cases could be called immediately since, unlike public defender cases, these private cases did not require time for the lawyers to become familiar with the case or interview their clients. It was simply a matter of getting the case called as soon as the lawyer and the client were present. In traditional circumstances, where there are multiple metal detectors in the main courthouse, lawyers and clients could match up and be present right away and the cases could be done right away. In Borough Hall on Fridays, however, the Courtroom could quickly become top heavy with lawyers waiting for clients on line while few or even no cases get called.
The solution proposed by Queens Criminal Court is to bring all DAT cases back into the main criminal court arraignment and spread those Desk Appearance Ticket arraignments throughout the week so as not to disrupt regular arraignments too much on any given day. This seems like a logical step, and would solve the problem of not having lawyers matched up with clients in the morning solely because there is just one metal detector for the courtroom.
There has been some complaint, however, that the new system will in fact detract from the arrest to arraignment time for people who are held in the system. This seems fairly unlikely, however, because as I understand it, regular arraignment cases will be heard mixed in with the DAT cases - which is something that was done from time to time back in long gone days when I first started as a lawyer in New York City. I remember occasionally having Desk Appearance Ticket cases appear in night arraignments.
Also, of all the boroughs, Queens has recently been one of the fastest arrest to arraignment counties, averaging around 19 hours, significantly below the used to be traditional 24 hour mark. I was astounded recently by a situation where I surrendered a client in Queens at 8am and I was in Court in Queens doing his arraignment at 2:30pm. That was a six and one half hour arrest to arraignment time - one of the fastest arrest to arraignment times I have ever experienced in a traditional surrender to a police precinct situation. So it seems to me that concerns related to DAT cases substantively detracting from arrest to arraignment time may be misplaced, at least in Queens.
Another complaint is that the physical circumstances of the main arraignment courtroom in Queens do not lend themselves to much in the way of privacy for conferencing DAT cases for the assigned attorneys who must meet with people for the first time on the day of appearance for Desk Appearance Ticket cases. There are no booths, and the hallway outside the courtroom is small, making intimate conversations difficult.
This complaint I have a few thoughts about. Yes, it is less than ideal for attorney client conversations, and in fact this is one of the advantages of obtaining private counsel on Desk Appearance Tickets - you get to have a civilized private conversation with your lawyer at some considerable time prior to your court appearance, as opposed to five minutes before you see the judge. But there is no requirement that people have those conversations in the courthouse hallway. The assigned lawyers could take their clients across the street to their offices for thorough, private conversations, and then return ready to do the arraignments. The Court could also provide space somewhere in the building for these private conversations as well. This is not an unsurmountable problem.
Not that this was ideal or even sane, but I remember when I first started as a lawyer in New York City, that there were no interview booths at all at arraignments and that the "interviews" prior to arraignment took place at the door of a jail cell in full view and hearing of every other prisoner and corrections officer. That was absolute mayhem, often times with lawyers interviewing people two at a time in front of the jail cell door. This is not an argument that this was OK, but just something I note in passing by way of comparison. We have come a long way in 27 years.
By Don A. Murray, Esq.
Don Murray is a 27 year veteran New York City criminal defense lawyer. He has handled countless desk appearance ticket cases in New York City and specifically in Queens County, with the Queens Criminal Court virtually across the street from his office. He can be reached at 718-268-2171 by voice or text for consultation.