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The People’s Lawyer: New Council Bill Pushes 24-hour Limit on Trips to the Tombs

Ann Schneider Mar 7, 2006

A measure pending right now in the City Council would put teeth into the rule that lets you see a judge within 24 hours of being arrested anywhere in NYC. It is called the “Charge or Release Bill.”

Right now, the rule is often violated, especially in the Bronx. A study by the NYCLU, proponent of the measure, found that more than half of all people arrested are arraigned more than 24 hours after being picked up. Because people of color are three-fourths of all those arrested in the city, it is a matter of racial justice that processing be done swiftly enough to comply with the 24-hour rule, which was mandated by the state Court of Appeals in 1991.

The police and the city Department of Corrections are supposed to work together to run fingerprints and draft a set of charges within 24 hours of arrest. But, as happened during the Republican National Convention, each department tries to place the blame for non-compliance on the other department.

This bill would require both the NYPD and the Department of Corrections to report to the
City Council four times a year on the number of people held more than 24 hours and to account for the time a person was in the custody of each department.

But what gives this bill teeth is that it provides attorney’s fees for detainees who are held over 24 hours. (Presently, one can theoretically sue for damages, but unless you’re held
for several days, the damages are too small for a lawyer to want to take the case on contingency).

For this reason, public safety committee chair Peter Vallone Jr. strenuously opposes the bill. He writes, “This bill will do nothing but result in large taxpayer payouts to rapists and murderers.”

But in reality, 62 percent of daily arrests are for misdemeanors and violations, not felonies. This means that many people, disproportionately people of color, serve more time before arraignment than the offense would require, if they were convicted.

The bill does carry an exception to the rule for an “unforeseeable extraordinary circumstance,” but says budgetary constraints can’t be used to justify a delay.

None of this placates councilman Vallone. He says, “This isn’t a ‘Get-Out-of-Jail-Free’ card. It’s a ‘Get-Out-of-Jail-and-get-paid-for-it’ card.” The bill has 21 co-sponsors. As of this writing, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is not among them.

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