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Brooklyn DA begins erasing past marijuana convictions

December 19, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Eric Gonzalez. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese

Just days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his intentions to back efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in New York, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez took concrete steps to help people with past convictions get them taken off of their record.

In front of Hon. Michael Yavinsky, supervising judge of the Brooklyn Criminal Court, Gonzalez moved to officially vacate 1,422 outstanding misdemeanor warrants stemming from failure to appear in court on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.

He also erased 28 past convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession, which, Gonzalez’s office pointed out, is the first time a DA has had a marijuana possession conviction erased in NYS.

“I note that the majority of these warrants were issued to black and Latino New Yorkers, and many are remnants of stop-and-frisk policies that harmed many of our communities and that the City has since abandoned,” Gonzalez said in court on Wednesday. “I believe we must do what we can to repair the harms done to the individuals and the communities that were targeted in well-meaning but misguided efforts of the past.”

Gonzalez explained that his office has stopped prosecuting most marijuana cases because he believes that they do not actually make the community safer, and that its enforcement has disproportionately affected minority communities.

“In the past several months, my office filed criminal complaints in only a small handful of marijuana possession cases, which represented the most egregious conduct, and we have also created a program to erase past convictions for these offenses,” Gonzalez said.

Judge Michael Yavinsky, supervising judge of the Brooklyn Criminal Court.
Judge Michael Yavinsky, supervising judge of the Brooklyn Criminal Court.

 

The DA’s Office has partnered with The Legal Aid Society and Brooklyn Defender Services to hold ongoing programs to erase marijuana possession convictions in Brooklyn. Wednesday’s motions were the result of three events the DA helped to host over the past three months, during which people met with public defenders to determine if they were eligible.

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The DA’s Office has touted a 98 percent decline in the prosecution of cases involving smoking in public as part of its attempt to reduce the prosecution of low-level marijuana possession offenses overall. Gonzalez has supported efforts to get the NYPD to use civil summonses rather than criminal summonses in response to low-level marijuana offenses.

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