A former assistant district attorney in Roxbury, Boston, Bobby Constantino, quickly grew tired of, "spending most of [his] time prosecuting people of color for things [that] white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs."
So, dressed in a suit and tie and armed with the materials needed to viciously vandalize public property with spray paint, Constantino began to traverse New York City, looking to be stopped and frisked.
It never happened.
Eventually, he ended up at City Hall, where he tagged, "N.Y.P.D. GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME" on a gatepost not 20 feet from a police officer. He moved closer and tagged it again.
Over the course of the next few weeks, he tried to turn himself in at City Hall multiple times, turning over his license and admitting to his crime. Finally, after being turned away every time, he marched down to Manhattan Criminal Court and turned himself in.
Constantino says that he did all of this to demonstrate the way that the justice system sometimes works counter-intuitively, or hinders an offender from living a life taken for granted by the rest of us, even for misdemeanors.
Two months later I arrived at Manhattan Criminal Court at 9:00 a.m. and stood in a line of people that stretched out to the street. I found my way to the courtroom and watched cases being called until around noon, when my attorney beckoned me into the hallway and confirmed what had been written on the assistant state attorney's file at arraignment. "The district attorney's office is playing hardball. They are seeking a guilty plea against you and requesting jail time if you don't take it."
"But it's a first-time misdemeanor, that ridiculous—"
"I know, but they aren't budging. Your only chance at avoiding the consequences of a guilty conviction is going to trial."
Seven subsequent months of visits offered snaking lines, courtrooms packed with misdemeanor offenders, assistant state attorneys threatening jail time, and the steady issuing of fees, fines, and surcharges.
In the end I was found guilty of nine criminal charges. The prosecutor asked for 15 days of community service as punishment. My attorney requested time served. The judge—in an unusual move that showed how much the case bothered him—went over the prosecutor's head and ordered three years of probation, a $1000 fine, a $250 surcharge, a $50 surcharge, 30 days of community service, and a special condition allowing police and probation officers to enter and search my residence anytime without a warrant.
More than that, though, Constantino has to be given permission to leave New York City. He wasn't able to go home to be with his family in Massachusetts for Christmas or Easter and eventually had to file a complaint and switch probation officers. His new P.O. wouldn't let him go to Boston to visit with schoolkids who lost a classmate in the Boston Marathon bombing.
If you have a few minutes, read Constantino's first-person account and take a glimpse at the criminal justice system at work. [The Atlantic]