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Brooklynites can have their past marijuana convictions vacated this weekend

September 21, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Eric Gonzalez. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese
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After announcing a plan to vacate as many as 20,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions earlier this month, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez will begin the process this morning at a church in Prospect-Lefferts, as part of his Begin Again program.

The move is seen as an attempt to bridge the gap in the documented racial inequality of marijuana enforcement by the NYPD as the city decriminalizes the drug and as New York state and its neighbors consider full legalization.

“Outstanding summons warrants and low-level marijuana convictions hold people back in a myriad of ways and do little to enhance public safety,” Gonzalez said. “By giving folks the opportunity to erase these convictions and warrants from their record, we allow them to move on with their lives while fostering community trust in the criminal justice system.”

The program is being run in conjunction with the Office of Court Administration, The Legal Aid Society and Brooklyn Defender Services on Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lenox Hill Baptist Church on Nostrand Avenue.

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Anyone with an outstanding summons warrant can have their warrant dismissed, and anyone convicted on low-level marijuana possession offenses will be assigned an attorney free of charge to file a motion to erase the past conviction.

While even Gonzalez’s critics have praised the move, some have expressed concern over exactly who is eligible, and others have wondered why the process couldn’t be done more efficiently.

The DA does plan to move to vacate nearly 3,000 outstanding summons warrants as a direct result of the change in enforcement policies of his office and the Brooklyn NYPD. The people who have received those summonses are not required to show up to the event this weekend

Those eligible to have past convictions vacated include anyone convicted of misdemeanor possession charges and anyone who currently has a warrant for a misdemeanor marijuana possession case. There are exceptions for people who have convictions for certain violent felonies and sex offenses.

People looking to vacate a past marijuana conviction must show up to Begin Again this weekend, but the DA’s Office said that any future potential court appearances will be waived.

Begin Again also aims to help those with a summons warrant for any infraction generated by a failure to respond to summons for a minor infraction, such as walking their dog without a leash, riding a bike on the sidewalk, or being in a park after dark.

The program is also open to undocumented immigrants, as the DA has insisted that questions regarding immigration status will not be raised at the event.

For anyone who cannot attend Begin Again this weekend, Gonzalez has announced plans to hold similar events in various neighborhoods across the borough over the upcoming months.

Begin Again has been around since 2015 and has helped over 3,000 New Yorkers clear 2,100 old warrants, according to the DA’s Office. There have been no arrests made at Begin Again events and people are allowed to consult with on-site attorneys to make sure their summonses are eligible.

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