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DA Eric Gonzalez wants to further decrease marijuana prosecution in Brooklyn

May 16, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced on Tuesday that he plans to decrease prosecutions of marijuana charges, but has yet to release the full details except that he would like to see more cases responded to with a summonses rather than arrest. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese

Since the late Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced that he would decline to prosecute some cases involving marijuana charges in 2014, the number of weed-related convictions has dropped about 75 percent in Brooklyn, according to the DA’s Office.

Current DA Eric Gonzalez thinks that Brooklyn can do better.

Gonzalez stopped short of declaring that he would decline to prosecute all marijuana cases, but he did make a commitment to do better than the current rate.

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“I believe that low level marijuana cases should be responded to with summonses rather than arrests,” Gonzalez said in a statement on Tuesday.

Gonzalez went on to explain that even after the DA’s Office started declining to prosecute certain cases that crime continuing its downward trend. He pointed out, though, that large racial disparities still exist within marijuana arrests.

A recent study in an article published by The New York Times found that black and Hispanic people were more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white people despite equal complain rates in white and minority neighborhoods around New York City and Brooklyn.

“Yet the racial disparities in arrests remain intractable and unacceptable, so we need to do more to ensure fairness and trust in our system,” Gonzalez said. “Three months ago, we began a pilot program in which we declined to prosecute some instances of smoking marijuana in public where a public nuisance was not created, doubling the number of cases we declined to prosecute.”

Working in conjunction with his Justice 2020 initiative, Gonzalez has been working with the Mayor’s Office and NYPD to identify areas where they can close the gaps in prosecuting marijuana cases.

Gonzalez would like to decline to prosecute more cases involving smoking in public where a public nuisance isn’t created, and would rather see NYPD issue civil summonses similar to those issued in cases of public urination, according to a person within the office.

“I am concerned about the ‘public nuisance’ exception,” Scott Hechinger, a senior staff attorney with the Brooklyn Defender Services tweeted. “What is a ‘public nuisance?’ Who will be in the position to determine whether one exists? Will DA’s office rely on police word? Will there also be an exception for those with criminal records? If so, what is the rationale?”

There is talk that Gonzalez will decline to prosecute those with criminal records, and he wants to go as far as to decline to prosecute those with open warrants as well, thinking that they’re going to be arrested and taken to central booking for the open warrant anyway. However, he has made no commitment to do so and is still working with the Mayor’s Office and NYPD on the details.

“How this plays out remains to be seen,” said Michael Cibella, president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association. “How narrowly they choose to define that area where someone would go through the system like in the past, instead of receiving a summons, remains to be seen. They’ve already significantly reduced those figures, but I don’t know that they’ll ever eliminate all arrests for simple marijuana possession.”

No big changes are expected right away. When Manhattan DA Cy Vance made a similar announcement on Tuesday, he said that his plan will go into place on Aug. 1. The Brooklyn DA’s Office is expected to further implement its plan, an expansion of a pilot program it started, around the same time.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Cibella said. “This is not going on in many other parts of the country. However, we still need to see how the policy will be written and implemented.”


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