Acting DA Gonzalez dismisses 143,000 old summons warrants in Brooklyn
Brooklyn’s Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez stood alongside City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James as he asked a judge to vacate 143,532 old, low-level summons warrants that were issued 10 or more years ago during a special session of the court in Downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Judge Frederick Arriaga called the move to dismiss the summonses “unprecedented” before he ruled that they should be vacated.
The Bronx, Manhattan and Queens joined Brooklyn as approximately 645,000 summons warrants were dismissed throughout the city. Staten Island is the only borough that did not participate.
“Many of these cases are 10, 15 or 20 years old,” said Gonzalez. “They stem from low-level activity, for example someone riding a bike on a sidewalk or being in a park after dark. The people who received these tickets, for various reasons, couldn’t pay — some people couldn’t afford to miss work to pay the ticket, couldn’t afford to pay the fine or they had childcare issues.
“None of those people were ever told that failure to pay those fines would lead to an arrest warrant,” Gonzalez continued. “We also know that the court system, at that time, did not provide a mechanism to have the case recalled or offer a second chance to come down and take care of those summonses.”
Gonzalez explained how this day was the culmination of an effort that started with late DA Ken Thompson’s Begin Again program, which has been continued even after Gonzalez took over the office following Thompson’s death. The program allowed people with old summons warrants to have them wiped out at community events.
“I believe that someone who owes a $25 fine should not be arrested and brought down to central booking and spend 24 hours in a cell next to a hardened criminal,” Gonzalez said. “That’s not fair and that’s not justice. Today’s action removes the burden of possible arrest for 10s of thousands throughout Brooklyn.”
Gonzalez explained that while some of these cases are prosecutable, many are so old that they are simply dismissed once the person who received the summons finally shows up to court. Gonzalez said that cops are often tied up for many hours handling these summons warrants when they come across them even though nothing comes of most of them.
“We need these officers on patrol and not to be pulled off patrol because they came in contact with someone who had a minor summons warrant from 10, 15, or 20 years ago,” Gonzalez said. “The time it takes to arrest them, process the paperwork and bring them down to Central Brooklyn makes us less safe because it keeps those officers off the street.”
In addition to not being able to prosecute many of these old warrants, James pointed out that the summons warrants have undue hardships on people when it comes to looking for jobs, finding housing or obtaining citizenship.
“By dismissing old warrants for minor offenses, DA Gonzalez is taking action to prevent a minor mistake from causing a lifetime of suffering,” James said.
The DA’s Office will still prosecute low-level summonses of less than 10 years, but Gonzalez suggested that anyone with outstanding summons warrants should report to court to have them processed.
City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito explained that she was disappointed that Staten Island did not join the other four boroughs in this action. Gonzalez estimated that roughly 70,000 people would have been affected had Staten Island chosen to participate.
“For too long, old, low-level, non-violent summons warrants have put New Yorkers at risk for arrest,” Mark-Viverito said. “We are a city that believes in justice, not in supporting a broken summons system.”
This effort was done in conjunction with the Legal Aid Society, the Kings County Criminal Bar Association, Brooklyn Defender Services and clergy members who were partners in the Begin Again program.
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