March 26, 2007 — The New York Civil Liberties Union today delivered a petition signed by over 1,200 New Yorkers and fifteen civil rights organizations to the New York City Council, insisting that the Council formally consider a bill that would protect individuals' legal right to be arraigned within 24 hours of arrest.
The "Charge or Release Bill" (Intro. 53) would bring New York City in line with state law by ensuring that individuals are arraigned within 24 hours of arrest. Sixteen years ago today, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that a person has a legal right to an expeditious arraignment – yet each year, tens of thousands of New Yorkers are held for 30, 40, or even 50 hours after arrest before seeing a judge. Twenty-three Council Members have signed on as co-sponsors of Intro. 53.
"New York City has continued to violate people's right to be arraigned in a timely manner, sixteen years after the Court of Appeals ruled that arrestees see a judge within 24 hours of their arrests," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "At this crucial moment in police-community relations, the City Council can no longer afford to ignore its responsibility for a criminal justice system that routinely forces thousands of innocent individuals to spend over 24 hours in jail because they are accused of minor offenses. Time is long overdue for the Council to at least hold a hearing on the Charge or Release bill."
According to data recently obtained by the NYCLU, on 42 days of a recent 45-day period in the Bronx, over 50% of individuals arrested by the police were held for more than 24 hours before being arraigned. On 25 of those days, more than 75% of those arrested were held for longer than 24 hours. As the Bronx data show, thousands of New Yorkers – especially New Yorkers of color – are held for as long as 40 or 50 hours, often for minor offenses for which they ultimately receive no jail time. The "Charge or Release Bill" would prevent these violations by ensuring that arraignment take place within 24 hours of arrest.
The personal, social and economic costs to the city and its residents are great when law enforcement fails to arraign thousands of individuals within 24 hours of arrest. Elizabeth Harris, a working student and mother of four, was held for forty hours after being arrested. She was forced to leave her four children, the youngest of whom was eight-years-old, with a neighbor for nearly two days while she sat in detention, unsure when she'd be able to see her family again. Elizabeth was ultimately released without ever being charged.. Sadly, as arrest rates in New York City continue to rise, stories like Elizabeth's are all too common.
"The problem of prolonged detention without arraignment will not go away unless the City Council acts to fix it," said Udi Ofer, NYCLU Legislative Counsel. "The recent rise in the number of arrests in New York City only exacerbated the problems in an already broken arrest-to-arraignment system that needs legislative mending."
The NYCLU delivered the letter to the City Council today to urge it to hold a hearing and vote on Intro. 53, which was introduced in the City Council on February 15, 2006. "New Yorkers are waiting for the City Council's leadership on this issue," said James Levy, a Brooklyn resident and volunteer with the NYCLU who led the effort in obtaining the signatures of 1,200 New Yorkers on a letter delivered today to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Click here to read the NYCLU's 2006 report Justice Delayed, Justice Denied: A Study of Arrest to Arraignment Times in New York City.
Click here to see the latest data from The Bronx regarding arrest-to-arraignment times.