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In the fictional TV comedy "Night Court" (both the original and the recent remake), the court is described as an "Arraignment Court", which I understood should serve to read the charges, set bail and potentially record a plea, but defer the rest of the process (discovery, pre-trials, depos, trial, and eventual sentencing) to later appearances.

In the TV show, the judge often declares "Guilty/Not Guilty/Dismissed", and even sentences defendants (usually to "Time Served").

Is this an accurate portrayal of a Night Court, or purely a device for fictional purposes?
What is a Night Court empowered to do, or not do?

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    Thanks for asking this question. I saw this show for the first time recently, and I was wondering the same thing myself.
    – Pete
    Feb 23, 2023 at 15:25

3 Answers 3

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A "night court" is simply a court that operates outside the ordinary business hours for the convenience of people who have work during those hours. They aren't common and are mostly found in medium sized and large cities.

A "night court" can do whatever judges in the jurisdiction decide should be offered at that time based upon the needs of people who deal with the court system.

Small claims civil cases and protection order cases, for example, are also often handled in a night court format, and a variety of criminal law matters not requiring a jury trial could be handled in that format.

Most cities have a judge or magistrate assigned to take arraignments, not always at night (often the position is rotated among judges in the jurisdiction every now and then), which, as the question notes, "should serve to read the charges, set bail and potentially record a plea, but defer the rest of the process (discovery, pre-trials, depos, trial, and eventual sentencing) to later appearances."

An arraignment court would often accept guilty pleas, and sentence people when they plead guilty to infractions, petty offenses, and misdemeanors. It would also often dismiss charges when the prosecutor decides that the case has no merit and decides not to pursue it. It would rarely enter not guilty pleas on the merits, but the court in the television show might not be a pure arraignment court.

But, as my knowledge of television comedies is less expansive than my knowledge of the law, I can't tell you if this is "an accurate portrayal of a Night Court, or purely a device for fictional purposes."

I'm sure that the TV version has wittier dialog, more interesting lawyers and court personnel, and less boringly repetitive cases than real life, but I'd have to defer to someone who has ever watched more than the trailers of the show to comment further.

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    The judge on the original show also occasionally did magic tricks (the actor was also a magician). That probably doesn't happen too much in real night courts.
    – Barmar
    Feb 21, 2023 at 15:31
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    @Barmar Another difference is fewer legendary appearances by our friend, the Incredible Hulk... youtube.com/watch?v=J6zVGP7OQ6U Feb 21, 2023 at 20:54
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    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket lol, that prompted me to try to find out if Ferrigno had ever been arrested. Google couldn't find anything, but I learned that was named as an "honorary police officer" in Syracuse last year, and got to go on a ride-along.
    – Barmar
    Feb 21, 2023 at 21:00
  • To make it clear: a night court and an arraignment court are two separate things, right? Although there is probably some overlap (night court only allowing arraignments in bigger cases).
    – jaskij
    Feb 22, 2023 at 20:30
  • @jaskij You are correct.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 22, 2023 at 21:04
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Night Court is set in Manhattan. The Arraignments part of Manhattan's Criminal Court (but not the Desk Appearance Tickets section) is open 7 nights per week until 1:00 AM.

The NYC Criminal Court handles misdemeanors (crimes punishable by fine or imprisonment of up to one year) & lesser offenses. The Court also conducts arraignments and preliminary hearings for felonies (crimes punishable by imprisonment of more than one year).

Which would explain why Night Court disposes of lots of misdemeanor cases.

New York City's Small Claims Court is open until midnight on Thursday nights.

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  • @Solomon Ucko -- Thank you for your good faith edit. I rejected it because the sentence focuses on the "Night Court" part of the hours.
    – Jasper
    Feb 22, 2023 at 5:16
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When I was a lad, The Chief Magistrate presided over Court One, and on a Monday morning would hear the summary cases for all the people picked up by the police over the weekend. And he did deliver verdicts. Also, over the weekend and at night, bail hearings went to Bail Justices.

If we'd had a Night Court, that's what it would have been hearing. Summary cases and bail applications.

In my jurisdiction, those were not called "Arraignment Courts", and they didn't handle "mentions" (arraignments), mentions were scheduled for normal court hours. It's entirely possible that in some other system, a night court might handle arraignments, but in my system arraignments were and are handled separately from Summary and Bail judgements.

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