FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez Dismisses 143,500 Old Summons Warrants that Subjected Residents to Arrest
Vacating Summons Warrants 10 Years or Older Helps Resolve Staggering Backlog, Enhances Public Safety; Initiative by Four City DAs Follows Brooklyn’s Begin Again Program
Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that, in the interest of justice, he moved to dismiss 143,532 summons warrants that were issued 10 or more years ago. The warrants in question were issued for failure to pay a ticket for a minor infraction, subjecting individuals to arrest as well as carrying other negative consequences. Today’s dismissals are part of an effort by the District Attorneys of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens who collectively dismissed nearly 645,000 old summons warrants.
Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Gonzalez said, “Today, we took an important step in showing our commitment to improved relations between law enforcement and the community, and our focus on violent crimes instead of petty offenses. This action allows us, the courts and the NYPD to divert resources away from low-level warrants and towards serious offenses. Most of the summonses dismissed today have been issued to poor, black and Latino individuals, many of whom may not even be aware that they have open warrants that could trigger an arrest for minor infractions dating back many years. My Office has been spearheading the effort to address the crisis of outstanding summons warrants through our Begin Again program and I am gratified that we were able to significantly slash the backlog today in a way that enhances public safety and promotes fairness.”
“For too long, old, low-level, non-violent summons warrants have put New Yorkers at risk for arrest,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “That is why, almost two years ago today, I first called on the District Attorney’s in the five boroughs to clear these warrants and I’m thrilled that today we are able to take this tremendous step forward. We are a City that believes in justice, not in supporting a broken summons system. I want to thank Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Gonzalez, Public Advocate James, members of clergy and the DA’s from the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan as we take a critical step forward to bring more justice to tens of thousands New Yorkers.”
“Too often, when a warrant is issued for a minor offense, it has a major impact on an individual’s life,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “Warrants for petty crimes are disproportionately dispensed in our most vulnerable communities, where they make it even more difficult for New Yorkers to get housing, jobs, and even citizenship. By dismissing old warrants for minor offenses, District Attorney Gonzalez is taking action to prevent a minor mistake from causing a lifetime of suffering.”
“I’m happy to hear that DA Gonzalez, along with his counterparts in three other boroughs, intends to continue and expand the thoughtful, helpful policies and practices which began during the tenure of DA Thompson. This shift will give otherwise productive, law-abiding citizens a break, while, at the same, de-clogging the court dockets of an exceptionally busy judiciary. Moreover, this allows space for serious cases to be heard faster and for citizens to move on with their lives, thereby freeing them to sample more of the American dream,” said Rev. Anthony L. Trufant, Senior Pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church of Brooklyn
The dismissal of the warrants poses no risk to public safety as those individuals whose warrants are being dismissed have not been arrested in the past 10 years or their warrants would have been triggered. Furthermore, the warrants stem from summonses issued for minor infractions such as riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, drinking beer in public, disorderly conduct, and being in a park after dark.
The summons warrants that were dismissed today, when left unresolved, subject those who have them to an automatic arrest when questioned by police on the street or during a traffic stop. They may also carry a number of negative consequences, including impeding one’s ability to apply for citizenship, to secure employment or obtain public housing, and subject undocumented immigrants to deportation.
Approximately 143,500 warrants were dismissed in Brooklyn; 160,000 in the Bronx; 240,500 in Manhattan; and 100,000 in Queens.
In 2015, recognizing the unfairness and inefficiency of having over 1 million outstanding summons warrants citywide, the late Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson kicked off the Begin Again program in which the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office hosted warrants forgiveness events in churches to allow those with summons warrants get rid of them in a safe environment within the community. Over 3,000 New Yorkers attended these events and more than 2,100 summons warrants were vacated, with legal and social service providers at hand to offer assistance. Following the success, similar events were later held in Manhattan and the Bronx.
The movement towards drastically reducing the backlog of warrants gained momentum, culminating today following months of work with the Office of Court Administration, the New York City Police Department, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the Speaker of the New York City Council.
The Acting District Attorney thanked all of these offices, as well as the Legal Aid Society, the Kings County Criminal Bar Association, the Public Advocate for the City of New York and clergy members for their partnership in the Begin Again program.