NYCLU Hails Introduction of Civil Rights Legislation to End Unlawful NYPD Detention Practice

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
May 24, 2005 12:00 am

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Prolonged Detention Prior to Arraignment Impacts African Americans and Latinos Disproportionately and Chills Free Speech, Study Finds

NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union today called on the City Council to pass landmark civil rights legislation that will be introduced tomorrow. Known as the “Charge or Release” bill and introduced by Council Member Bill Perkins, it would mandate that individuals arrested in New York City are arraigned within 24 hours of arrest.

“The law states that no one should be held for longer than 24 hours without being formally charged before a judge,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “But we are concerned that the practice of prolonged detention targeted protesters charged with minor offenses at the Republican National Convention, and on a daily basis, has a disproportionate impact on people of color. The Charge or Release bill will bring New York City into compliance with the 24-hour rule.”

A 1991 New York Court of Appeals decision mandated that individuals arrested in New York must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Yet that ruling is routinely ignored in New York City, the NYCLU said. The legislation to be introduced seeks to resolve the serious problem highlighted during the Republican National Convention when hundreds of protesters were held far in excess of 24 hours and often charged with minor violations.

A study released today by the NYCLU and New York City Bill of Rights Defense Campaign bolsters the call for the bill. The study indicates that holding arrestees for longer than 24 hours is routine in many parts of the city, particularly in communities of color. Specifically, the data reveal that in October and November 2004 more than 16,000 arrestees were held for longer than 24 hours in New York City. A shocking 62 percent of arrestees in the Bronx — the borough with the largest minority population — were held for longer than 24 hours, the highest percentage among the five boroughs. The lowest percentage was in Queens, where 21 percent of those arrested were held longer than 24 hours.

“The excessive detention that occurred during the RNC is a routine occurrence in the criminal justice system, and is a problem that unfortunately is faced daily by communities of color of New York City,” said Udi Ofer, Project Director of New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign. “Adding insult to injury, the majority of those arrested are eventually charged with low-level offenses and would likely face no jail time if convicted. While individuals sit in often overcrowded detention facilities, they are forced to miss work or school or scramble to find emergency child care.”

The Charge or Release bill would promote greater transparency and accountability by mandating that the NYPD and Department of Correction provide quarterly reports on the number of individuals detained longer than 24 hours, with explanation for the prolonged detentions.

The New York City Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, a volunteer-driven campaign of the NYCLU, has spearheaded the movement to introduce the Charge or Release bill. Campaign members have built a diverse coalition of organizations representing the broad nature of the problem. In the past, the Campaign has worked successfully to pass the Bill of Rights and Right to Assemble resolutions.

Organizations endorsing the Charge or Release bill include Harlem Neighborhood Defender Services, Grand Council of Guardians, NAACP State Chapter, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Legal Aid Society, Women of Color Policy Network, Correctional Association and New Immigrant Community Empowerment.

The findings for the Charge or Release Bill were completed by New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign Project Associate Yanilda Gonzalez and are available online at

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