It is 8:00 PM on a Sunday in New York City. The audience is seated silently in six wooden rows and ready to see what will happen next. Tonight’s live entertainment is provided by Judge Chu. This show is not on Broadway though but at 100 Centre Street where South Hall New York City’s night court is located.
Every single evening from 5:00 PM to 1:00 AM arraignments take place 24 hours after the arrest of a suspect at Manhattan’s Criminal court, and everyone can go and watch them. Throughout the years this has become one of New York City’s unique tourist attractions.
After going through the security of the building, visitors can be a spectator in the justice-making process. Two photographers, one journalist from the New York Post and three loud and amused teenagers, were today’s public as 92 people waited to see the judge.
In a matter of minutes, everyone’s short-term future is decided. In an arraignment, the defendant comes straight from the 24-hour jail-time after the arrest. Here he or she is informed of the legal charges, and the judge also sets the bail, if needed.
The first man, arrested for disorderly conduct gets $4,000 bail. Six minutes later another defendant comes. He was accused of rape but walked away freely less than nine minutes later. The third man already had a history with six DUI and previous arrests. He got arrested for possession of marijuana, and the bail was also $4,000.
Leshya Bracaglia is a student at the New York University, and she was a spectator to four arraignments. “Tonight, I had to decide between going to dinner or coming and seeing some criminals get convicted,” she said. “I can’t believe anyone could come and watch this even at 12:00 AM.”
The court has been open to the public for a long time but has recently gained popularity especially among tourists. Robert Sherlock Smith is a former associate judge of the New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. “We have high school groups coming to New York from Germany or Denmark just to see this,” he said.
One of the reasons the New York City South Hall is so popular is also because of the famous people who have gone in front of a judge there. “I have Tupac’s, Nelly’s and 50 Cent’s autograph,” said Smith. “The head of the IMF was also accused of rape here. That’s when it’s really full.”