April 12, 2014

The NYPD, Shooting Victims and Open Warrants

The New York Times recently reported on the NYPD's policy of running warrant checks on shooting victims, and then investing ridiculous amounts of labor hours to safeguard them until they are healthy enough to be haled into court. (Article here). While not facially unconstitutional, the policy is absurdly wasteful and indicative of the NYPD's lack of judgment. It is also a reminder that it is not good to have open bench warrants, and if you have one, deal with it.

Hospitals routinely call the NYPD when gun shot victims appear in their ERs, and the NYPD understandably checks the victims for warrants (just as they do during routine traffic stops, etc.). When a bench warrant pops up, the NYPD then dispatches officers to guard the person around the clock until they recover sufficiently to be dragged into court to face their open charges. This is known as an "involuntary return on a warrant." Depending on the severity of the wounds, the constant security can last for days or weeks.

If the check revealed that the victim was wanted on an open warrant for a serious felony, you might consider this good police work. But, in my experience, the vast majority of these open warrants are nothing more than bench warrants for people who have either failed to appear on summonses or other court dates for petty violations (such as drinking in public, being in a park after closing, jumping a turnstile, etc.), or for non-payment of small fines or failure to submit proof of completion of their community service. Adding insult to injury, judges routinely dismiss the underlying charge once the absconder is before the courts on the theory that the person has already been punished more than originally contemplated by the criminal statute.

We thus have a policy that removes officers from the street, or wastes large amounts of money on overtime, for the sole purpose of having cops sit around hospitals for hours and days on end so that the detainee can see a judge for a few minutes and then be released.

Takeaways? A little common sense please. If you're the NYPD, run your warrant check, but be more selective in your allocation of resources. And folks, if you don't want to wake up chained to your hospital bed, show up on your court dates and pay your fines.

And what do you do when you can't make a court date? Call your attorney, pronto. Preferably a day or two before hand, or at least before 9:30 a.m. on the day you're supposed to be go. Then, maybe, your lawyer can convince the judge not to issue the warrant. If you blow the date, the advice is the same: call your attorney. Bench warrants do not go away on their own. The fact that warrant squad officers aren't banging down your door doesn't mean you are in the clear. To the contrary, that warrant is doubtlessly open and will be discovered and enforced eventually. It might be when you are pulled over for a traffic stop. Instead of receiving a ticket, you are handcuffed and taken to jail. Maybe, as happened with one of my clients, you are at One Police Plaza to take an NYPD exam when detective materialize out of nowhere to arrest you. Or perhaps you are the victim of a shooting. You emerge from a surgical haze to find your wrist and ankles shackled to your bed. You spend the next several days in a hospital cuffed and under guard, before you are perp-walked to a waiting police car and brought to court.

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