Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson Announces Initiative to Address Backlog of Summons Warrants by Helping to Resolve Them in a Fair and Efficient Manner

Friday, June 19, 2015


Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson Announces Initiative to Address Backlog of Summons Warrants by Helping to Resolve Them in a Fair and Efficient Manner

Begin Again, in Partnership with Local Churches, the NYPD, the Defense Bar and the Courts,
Aims to Unburden Thousands of Residents Who Have an Open Warrant

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson today announced an initiative aimed at helping Brooklyn residents make a fresh start and have the weight of an open summons warrant lifted from their shoulders. Titled Begin Again, the program is designed to offer a solution to thousands of individuals who have an outstanding warrant because they failed to answer a citation for low-level offenses. Those estimated 1.2 million open warrants citywide carry a host of negative consequences.

District Attorney Thompson said, “Many of our Brooklyn neighbors are in danger of being placed in handcuffs and put through the system for failing to respond to a ticket for drinking alcohol in public, riding a bike on the sidewalk, walking a dog without a leash or being in a park after dark.  The summons itself might have been for a minor offense, but the warrant can have – and may have already had – a major negative impact and can put our police officers at risk unnecessarily.  During Begin Again events across Brooklyn, law-enforcement agencies and the communities we serve will work together to resolve this burden in a fair, efficient and supportive way.”

U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries said, “Over 200,000 Brooklynites have outstanding warrants as a result of low-level, non-violent offenses. We must be proactive in cleaning up this issue so that our justice system can be free to prosecute violent crime and keep hardened criminals off the streets. This initiative is a win-win for all involved and a good first step toward our goal of preventing nuisance offenses from ruining the lives of our young people across New York City. District Attorney Thompson should be commended for his commitment in bringing this essential program to life.”

New York City Criminal Court Administrative Judge Melissa Jackson said, “The Court is pleased to collaborate with the Brooklyn District Attorney, the Legal Aid Society, members of the clergy, NYPD and volunteer members of the community to bring about the two-day Begin Again event. We encourage individuals with outstanding summons warrants to take full advantage of this opportunity to vacate their warrants and dispose of their cases in this accessible and supportive environment.”

Public Advocate Letitia James said, “Over one million New Yorkers have open arrest warrants because they did not to respond to citations for low-level offenses, such as riding their bicycle on the sidewalk or being in parks after sundown. Begin Again is a means for individuals to resolve their warrants in a supportive way, without having to be arrested and spend a night in jail for minor offenses. Our criminal justice system should be a foundation that stabilizes our community, not an anchor that weighs us down. The cooperative, non-confrontational process of Begin Again will foster trust in the New York City legal system and help numerous individuals who have been victimized by the crackdown on low-level offenses.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, “The fundamental futures for tens of thousands of Brooklynites are at risk due to over a quarter of a million open warrants for low-level summonsable offenses in our borough. After patrolling our streets for 22 years as an NYPD officer, I know first-hand that we cannot tolerate quality-of-life disturbances. Still, we can all agree that the punishment must fit the offense. A young person that is arrested for failing to pay a summons at the age of 18 should not become unemployable at 21 due to an arrest based on a summons warrant. District Attorney Thompson is advancing justice and public safety alike through the Begin Again initiative, and I urge affected Brooklynites to avail themselves of this important program.”

District Attorney Thompson said that the first Begin Again event is being held on Father’s Day Weekend in partnership with clergy and other community leaders, elected officials, the New York City Police Department, the Legal Aid Society and the Office of Court Administration. It is taking place Friday, June 19th and Saturday, June 20th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Emmanuel Baptist Church, located at 279 Lafayette Avenue, corner of St. James Place, in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

Similar opportunities, all funded by the District Attorney’s Office, are planned for additional neighborhoods over the coming year.

More than 2,400 letters have been sent to people with outstanding warrants from the seven precincts surrounding Emanuel Baptist Church and walk-ins will also be processed. Individuals who did not receive a letter will first consult with attorneys from The Legal Aid Society to make sure only summons warrants are heard. All participants will then enter a makeshift courtroom, where a judge will be on hand to vacate warrants that resulted from the failure to respond to summonses for a multitude of low-level or “quality of life” offenses.

The District Attorney noted that, according to court records, there are approximately 1.2 million open warrants across the city – most of them issued over a year ago and some older than a decade – which were ordered after recipients failed to answer their summonses. About one quarter, or over 260,000, stem from summonses issued in Brooklyn.

These summons warrants, when left unresolved, can impede one’s ability to get a job, apply for citizenship or obtain public housing. They mean that any future contact with law-enforcement, even for a minor violation, will result in handcuffs, a trip to the precinct and possibly a night in jail. Moreover, the city’s already-overburdened courts must deal with an additional strain whenever those arrested for summons warrants are brought in front of a judge, delaying other proceedings. And warrants can put officers in unnecessary peril when they approach a person on the street or make a traffic stop as that person may resist or attempt to flee simply because of an old outstanding warrant.

Begin Again was created to address this problem. Participants will be taking an affirmative step by clearing up their warrants in a non-traditional, non-confrontational manner within a safe environment so they can move on with their lives. In addition, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office will host a neighborhood resource fair outside Emmanuel Baptist Church during the hours of the initiative. Over 30 local community-based organizations will offer vital information related to job training, legal advice, health services and more.

All outstanding summons warrants are eligible for Begin Again. Applicable offenses include, but are not limited to the following: unlawful possession of marijuana, unlawful possession of alcohol under the age of 21, consumption of alcohol in public, unlawful possession of handcuffs, littering, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, making unreasonable noise, animal nuisance, failure to have a dog license, unleashed dog, spitting, trespass, disorderly conduct, loitering, being in the park after closing, failure to comply with a posted sign in the park and transit fare evasion.