Going to court in New York City probably isn't your idea of a good time, and yet the city's night court has become a tourist attraction in its own right.
Tourists from around the world -- some armed with travel books that list NYC's night court as a unique destination -- are transfixed as they witness the American justice system in action, The Associated Press reports.
Perhaps visitors are hoping for a "Law and Order"-type experience, but alas the Manhattan Criminal Court's nighttime docket isn't meant to be entertaining. It's a real court of law that hears and decides criminal cases. (There's also a small-claims court that's open Thursday nights, but that's not the one where all the tourists go.)
So before you plan a visit to NYC's night court, here are some facts you should know:
- Hours of operation. The Manhattan Criminal Court hears cases from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., seven days a week. The "night court" mentioned in the AP's story goes from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
- Security measures. Similar to other tourist attractions like the Empire State Building, you'll have to pass through a metal detector before you can enter the court. So even if your home state allows you to carry a concealed weapon, you'll want to leave your weapon at home before you check out NYC's night court as a tourist.
- Courtroom etiquette. If you're visiting from a different country, it may be exciting to witness an American judicial proceeding. However, you shouldn't chat with your friends while the court is in session or take selfies to document your experience. Visitors should also turn off their cell phones and refrain from texting.
- Do you have to stay for the entire hearing? Night court observers are free to leave at any time, but it's best to leave between cases so you're not distracting the judge or attorneys. However, if you must leave to make your dinner reservations or Broadway show, try to sit in the back of the courtroom and don't make a scene when you exit.
- Can visitors be held in contempt? Even though visitors are not part of the judicial proceedings, they can still be held in contempt of court if they disrespect or defy the court's authority. So if a tourist disagrees with a judge's decision and stands up and yells at the judge, the tourist could be held in contempt. People in contempt of court could be given a fine or jail time if their actions seriously affect the court.
So before you add New York City's night court to your travel itinerary, make sure to respect the court like any other tourist attraction and realize that being disruptive can result in legal consequences.
- Nocturnalist | Justice Is Served. For Some, as a Diversion. (The New York Times)
- Unhappy, Cursing Juror Fined $500 for Courtroom Outburst (FindLaw's Legal Grounds)
- 5 Things You Shouldn't Say to a Criminal Judge (FindLaw's Blotter)
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