Brooklyn DA supports tossing out warrants for petty crimes
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez expressed his support of vacating open warrants for petty, quality-of-life crimes after a Queens councilmember grilled him on the subject.
At a Committee on the Justice System hearing March 19, Councilmember Rory Lancman — who heads the council’s justice system committee and is also running for Queens DA — asked all five DAs about throwing out the outstanding warrants for the minor, non-violent offenses that include public urination, public drinking, unreasonable noise and littering.
These offenses were decriminalized in a 2016 bill passed by the City Council called the Criminal Justice Reform Act.
The CJRA redirected the still-illegal quality-of-life crimes to civil court instead of criminal. In the past, defendants had to appear in criminal court, and one missed court date led to an arrest warrant.
At the time of the bill’s passing, there were 1.5 million open summons warrants in New York City, according to the City Council. Any person with an open warrant that is stopped by cops is subject to arrest.
“We do want to ask if you would be willing to vacate outstanding warrants where the underlying offense is one of the CJRA offenses that we effectively decriminalized,” asked Lancman at the hearing.
Gonzalez said he was in favor of vacating the open warrants, which he said were down to under 800,000. “These are conversations that we have been having ongoing in my office,” Gonzalez responded to Lancman.
“We are in conversations with the Mayor’s Office and law enforcement partners on expanding the summons warrants relief program that was started in Brooklyn to include violations that have since been decriminalized,” a spokesperson for Gonzalez said. The spokesperson did not provide a timeline.
The warrants are already down by hundreds of thousands since all the city’s DAs — with the exception of Staten Island — dismissed hundreds of thousands of low-level warrants that were more than 10 years old.
The Manhattan and Bronx DAs also supported Lancman’s effort to vacate the outstanding warrants, while Staten Island DA Michael McMahon sharply disagreed.
“The offenses are still offenses and quality-of-life offenses are very important to me,” he said.
“There is no reason why the NYPD should still have arrest warrants out for low-level, non-violent offenses that we in the City Council effectively decriminalized two years ago,” Lancman told the Eagle. “Queens should follow suit and join the DAs of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan in immediately vacating these frivolous warrants.”
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