As a part of the Spring 2022 Social Justice Academy, MMC college students noticed court docket proceedings with a workers member from Courtroom Watch NYC, a corporation that fosters accountability and transparency in courtroom proceedings and works towards jail abolition.
Right here David Miranda, lawyer, advocate, and adjunct teacher at MMC, presents his opinion on why it’s important for college students to study concerning the authorized system.
The Significance of Mock Trial and Courtroom Watch NYC in Pupil Studying and Felony Justice Reform
Felony justice reform, bail reform, and the inadequacies of the felony justice system have been subjects of accelerating concern over the previous couple of years. Whereas the concept the felony justice system should be rethought just isn’t new, current public discourse has approached the difficulty because the civil rights problem of our time. Actually, the time period “abolition” now means the thought of a world with out prisons—a world the place justice is rethought as making society complete, a person sufferer complete, and the felony defendant actually rehabilitated whereas on the similar time being held accountable with out using prisons or punitive penalties, which don’t serve a real function. What’s manifestly apparent to anybody who has been inside a New York felony court docket (even in what is probably essentially the most various metropolis on this planet) is that the felony justice system doesn’t influence all communities equally. It overwhelmingly extends its attain over communities of shade, the poor, and people struggling and dwelling with psychological well being points. What society can’t present with acceptable faculties, elevated and high quality psychological well being companies for all folks, and a systemic strategy to offering people and communities with equal alternatives, it makes an attempt to resolve with incarceration, management (by probation or parole), and criminalization.
For nearly three years, I used to be the Senior Arraignment Legal professional for the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. My workplace was within the courtroom. I sat in felony court docket assigning and conferencing circumstances with different attorneys earlier than arraignments. I seen that the one those that bore witness to what occurs within the court docket room had been attorneys (prosecutors and protection attorneys), judges, court docket officers, and people accused of a given act that was thought of a violation, misdemeanor, or felony beneath New York regulation. Felony court docket is open to the general public, and it’s public as a result of the federal government prosecutes circumstances in our title. Nevertheless, what I seen, was that the media was typically within the courtroom, and the media was typically the one approach the general public would hear about what goes on in a courtroom the place circumstances are prosecuted within the title of the “Individuals of the State of New York.”
The elephant within the room in felony justice reform is the media, which reduces the advanced challenges of crime and the felony justice system into simplistic soundbites. Many judges make selections based mostly on what is named the New York Submit check. That is the rule that if a choose thinks that releasing a defendant will in some way result in that choose being on the entrance web page of the New York Submit, then they are going to rule towards launch. In different phrases, the headlines within the information are driving the decision to drag again bail reform and provides judges wider latitude in guaranteeing the elevated incarceration of individuals by giving them the authority to set bail on circumstances the place they can’t set bail beneath the present regulation. That is taking place even within the absence of proof that present bail legal guidelines are the explanation for any enhance in crime. For context, present bail legal guidelines had been handed proper earlier than the pandemic began. Crime developments shift up and down in a pure cycle pushed by quite a lot of elements, together with unemployment and lack of supportive companies, each of which had been deeply affected by the pandemic.
Within the Mock Trial seminar that I educate at MMC, college students take part in Courtroom Watch NYC, the place they themselves observe arraignments in courts throughout the 5 boroughs. CourtWatch is a motion which holds prosecutors and judges accountable for his or her actions carried out in our title. As residents, we should drive the dialog about what justice appears to be like like. To try this, we have to bear witness to the selections these in energy make in our title.
My hope is that by grassroots packages like CourtWatch college students really feel empowered to make an knowledgeable resolution concerning the felony justice system and our function in envisioning a system the place justice is actually served. By studying concerning the authorized system and observing court docket proceedings, equivalent to arraignments, college students will develop into higher residents, jurors, and important thinkers in imagining the way forward for justice.