New York Teen Jailed without Conviction

by Vins
Published: Updated:

“Before the Law” by Jennifer Gonnerman chronicles sixteen-year-old Kalief Browder’s arrest, three-year incarceration in the Rikers Island Correctional Facility, and the months following the dismissal of his case without a trial. On May 15, 2010, Roberto Bautista reported to the police that he had been robbed. The police detained Kalief, but he was not in possession of any of the stolen items. When they spoke with Bautista after the search, he changed the date of the robbery to two weeks prior. On Bautista’s inconsistent accusation alone, Kalief was arrested on multiple felony charges and held without bail.

Kalief spent the next three years in the juvenile detention facility on Rikers Island. Though the prosecution stated that they were ready for trial, they later retracted their statement of readiness and requested endless adjournments. Further hearings became delayed by weeks or months due to court congestion. Kalief steadfastly waited for trial, refusing on numerous occasions to be coerced, by both the prosecution and the judge, into a guilty plea for a reduced sentence. Over time, his resolve waned, and he attempted suicide twice. However, on his 31st court date, 1,110 days after his arrest, the prosecution dismissed his case due to their inability to meet the burden of proof required for conviction. Bautista, the only witness, had returned to Mexico and was unable to be contacted. Kalief was released the following day.

Since his release, Kalief has been unable to return to his life as it was before his arrest and suffers from continuing mental health problems, including depression, social anxiety, and flashbacks. He has filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department, the City of New York, the New York Department of Corrections, and the Bronx District Attorney. All have denied any wrongdoing.

Source: Jennifer Gonnerman, “Before the Law,”  New Yorker, October 6, 2014,

Student Researcher: Kari Johnson (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluator: Jared Kinggard (Indian River State College)