Approximately 100,000 open summons warrants issued 10 or more years ago in Queens will be vacated in the coming weeks along with about 600,000 others issued in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan, the four boroughs’ district attorneys announced in a joint statement last Wednesday.
The warrants were issued for failure to pay a ticket for minor offenses, the four prosecutors said, such as riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, drinking beer in public or being in a park after dark. The warrants will be dismissed following court proceedings in each borough. The district attorneys also said those whose warrants will be dropped must not have been arrested in the past 10 years for any offense.
“The prosecution of thousands of ten year old and older summons part cases would pose serious factual and legal challenges,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in the release. “The NYPD has vetted the list and excluded the most flagrant violators who may still be prosecuted if apprehended. We believe the people of Queens County will be better served by focusing our resources on more serious offenses.”
But not everyone is thrilled with the prosecutors’ announcement.
Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon said vacating the warrants “sends the wrong message about the importance of respecting our community and our laws.”
“As a civic leader and neighborhood activist for over 30 years, I have worked tirelessly to protect the quality of life on Staten Island and I believe that part of my responsibility as district attorney is to continue to protect that quality of life,” he said in an emailed statement. “These warrants are given to individuals who have failed to appear in court after being issued summonses for violating that quality of life.”
The dismissed warrants, the other district attorneys said, subject people to “automatic arrest when questioned by police.” And, as The Legal Aid Society pointed out in a statement, they carry a “number of negative consequences.”
“While to some these charges may seem small and insignificant, summons warrants for low level offenses carry with them consequences that impact access to employment, public housing, benefits, student loans, employment and other public programs and services,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “However, City Hall also needs to scrap broken windows enforcement, otherwise these arrests that overwhelmingly target black and brown communities will continue to happen.”
Manhattan has the bulk of the warrants being dropped, at 240,000. There will be 166,000 vacated in the Bronx and 143,000 in Brooklyn.
According to Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), chairman of the Courts & Legal Services Committee, 20 percent of such summonses are “defective on their face,” meaning “they were written in such a way that they’re legally deficient.
“They don’t properly spell out the offense,” Lancman said in a telephone interview Monday. “If the person were to show up on the day of the hearing, the summons would be thrown out.”
The councilman also echoed Brown’s statements that the legal system’s resources would be put to better use for “more serious matters,” adding that many of the offenses people received summonses for have either already been or are in the process of being decriminalized.
“It’s an enormous injustice to these New Yorkers and an enormous waste of taxpayers resources and dollars,” he said. “It’s a great idea, it’s long overdue and I’m happy to see them embrace it ... The way we viewed justice in 2007 — or before then — is much different than the way we see it now.”
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