3: Four injustices we’ve seen at arraignments in Michigan and New York over the last two months.
The point of Vonzella is to help those that have been accused of crimes (and their support networks) navigate the bail process. Bail is a difficult, confusing, and stressful part of the criminal justice system, and it makes people feel very vulnerable. It also happens in the shadows of courthouses.
As we’ve been observing: There’s not only a lack of understanding with respect to how bail works, but also a lack of awareness of what’s really happening at arraignments to people in our communities (sometimes in the building just next door).
While we don’t mean to belittle our criminal justice system — resources are lacking — the following are some examples of the injustices we’ve witnessed.
A disproportionate amount of people of color being accused of crimes
142 arraignments at the 36th District Court in Detroit, which is located in Wayne County, Michigan. The demographics of those accused at these arraignments:
117 Black — (82.3%)
13 White — (9.1%)
7 Latino — (4.9%)
[5 — Other]
These numbers are verifiable approximations and provide a stark contrast to Wayne County’s demographics.
White — (54.8%)
Black — (39.1%)
Latino — (5.7%)
.An afternoon session of arraignments at the 36th District Court in Detroit where every person arraigned was either a black man or black woman.
Inhumane treatment of people in general
.An arraignment at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan during which a handcuffed man’s oversized pants fell to the ground and remained that way until his arraignment concluded.
.An argument from an indigent defendant at the 36th District Court in Detroit that his bail was “excessive” as he was homeless and had no money. The court nevertheless ordered a financial condition that the defendant could not pay.
.On various occasions at the 36th District Court in Detroit, courtroom personnel laughed at people being arraigned.
Excessive bail being ordered
.A $75,000 bond ordered in Bronx Criminal Court following a defense attorney’s argument that the defendant couldn’t afford such a high bond and was not the subject of the search warrant at issue in the first place.
.A 17 year-old student with deceased parents ordered to pay a $15,000 surety or $7,500 cash bond in Bronx Criminal Court.
Prolonged detention of unconvicted people
.An arraignment at the 36th District Court in Detroit was postponed because the court did not have a Spanish translator ready even though the person being arraigned had been locked up for more than 48 hours.
.An argument from a defense attorney in a courtroom at Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit that his client’s $2,500,000 bail for an assault charge carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison was “unconstitutional”. A bond hearing was ordered for the following week.