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Report: City’s Criminal Justice Reform Act has been a success

September 7, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hon. Fidel Del Valle, commissioner and chief judge of the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH), oversees the office that is handling many of the civil summonses that replaced criminal summonses under the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese

The Misdemeanor Justice Project (MJP), which is funded by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, issued a report this week that shows that the NYC Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA), which was passed by City Council back in June 2017, has caused a decline in the number of summonses and warrants issued by the city.

“CJRA was enacted into law to dramatically reduce the volume of warrants issued in criminal court,” says Preeti Chauhan, Director of John Jay’s Misdemeanor Justice Project. “So far it is achieving its goal of reducing the number of people who are receiving a permanent criminal record for a low-level, non-violent offense.”

The biggest change in the law created a presumption that civil summonses should be issued instead of criminal summonses on many low-level offenses with police officers ultimately holding the discretion.

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Civil summonses are handled by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). There are no criminal punishments during OATH hearings, and if a court date is missed a warrant is not issued. Three outstanding summonses over an eight-year period can result in law enforcement action.

According to the MJP, an analysis of the first six months after the law was enacted showed five main trends with the main one being a reduction in the number of summonses issued for public consumption of alcohol, public urination, littering and unreasonable noise.

According to the MJP, when summonses were issued, 89 percent of them were civil summonses. Men aged 35-65 in the Bronx and Staten Island were the most likely to be issued a criminal summons.

Civil summonses were paid without a hearing 38 percent of the time and criminal summonses were dismissed 35 percent of the time, according to the MJP.

Appearance rates were similar for both civil and criminal summonses — 51 percent of civil summonses were in default due to failure to appear and 49 percent of criminal summonses were in default for the same reason, according to the MJP.

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