the 48 second Arraignment Interview

“Are you a legal aid, or a lawyer?”

To which I respond… “I’m a lawyer with the Legal Aid society.” My client glares at me behind a cornucopia of perforated plexiglass and metal bars, head tilted forward, eyes raised, in utter disbelief (this chick aint no damn lawyer). I can’t blame him. I’m over here giving this man bad news…

Me: Yes, I know you only hopped a turnstile, but it technically is behavior that falls within the language of NY Penal Law section 165.15.

Client: (angrily) so let me get this straight… Hopping the turnstile is an A misdemeanor? You trying to send me to jail?

Me: I don’t think it should be, but I guess what I think doesn’t really matter at this point. So to answer your question, yes, hopping the turnstile is being treated like a misdemeanor. Basically, the court’s position is that your “theft” of MTA “service” by not paying the fare is criminal. But, there is a specific statute under the New York Rail Road Laws that describes the same behavior and is only an infraction that carries a $100 fine.


Me: I suspect you didn’t get the infraction because you’ve been living in the streets with no ID on you, and because you have a criminal record. I’m certain the fact that you are black was an added disadvantage.

Client: alright. So what I gotta plead to? I need to get out of here.

Me: you would be pleading to an A misdemeanor. You know that, right?

Client: oh, so you just want me to plead guilty, don’t you?! I bet that’s how you legal aids get paid… Just rail roading people to take pleas.

Me: first of all, I get paid the same whether you plead guilty today, tomorrow, or never. Second of all, I’m in court every day. I personally would PREFER for you to take this case to trial. You just have to recognize that we can’t go to trial today, and when we DO go to trial, you have to be ready for the risk of loss because I can’t make promises of success.

Client: okay, so let’s go to trial then. When we going to trial?

Me: probably in the next 6 to 8 months if bail is set that you can’t post, about 1yr to 2yrs if you’re released without bail. The case will have to be adjourned several times before we can go to trial. This is only the arraignment. The judge will likely set bail since you have a lengthy record for turnstile hopping and marijuana possession.

Client: (deflated, hopeless) this is some bullshit. Just find whatever plea you can to get me out of here.

Me: are you a U.S. citizen?

Client: what that gotta do with anything? I’ve lived here damn near my whole life. I was born in Jamaica. I got a greencard when I was 14.

Me: another conviction on your record will likely lead to you being placed in removal proceedings.

Client: oh so now you wanna deport me too?

Me: do you have any family or friends who will be coming to court for you? Perhaps I can convince the judge to release you if you have family in the courtroom.

Client: no. I have no one. just get me out of here.

*this is where I walk out, not having accomplished anything, hoping the DA will offer a plea that won’t involve another misdemeanor conviction*